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Books Editorial

asymmetry.jpg Asymmetry

Lisa Halliday, Granta

A character towards the end of this debut novel declares: “We have very little choice other than to spend our waking hours trying to sort out and make sense of the perennial pandemonium. To forge patterns and proportions where they don’t actually exist.” As readers we are also forced to try and forge patterns in a book that is split into two, seemingly unrelated tales. The first is set around the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and concerns a young woman working in New York who falls into a relationship with a much older, celebrated author (since reading the novel I’ve learned that Lisa Halliday was once in a relationship with Philip Roth when she was a great deal younger than him). The style is pared down, but their love affair is poignant and well drawn, particularly through sparky dialogue. The second story, told much more expansively, concerns Amir, an Iraqi American who is being detained at Heathrow Airport. His story is filled in through flashbacks. It’s a bravura conceit, open to multiple re-readings, with the reader being invited to tease out subtle allusions between the two tales, the imbalance of power being chief among them.