By Lisa Halliday
Asymmetry, as the title implies, is a novel about life’s lack of symmetry. A young woman has an affair with a man considerably older than herself. He is a rich, successful, world-famous writer, she a lowly editorial assistant. His health is failing. He is needy and lonely. She is grateful and acquiescent. They bond over a mutual passion for baseball.
An Iraqi-American economist is detained at Heathrow Airport on suspicion of… what exactly? We are never quite sure, but we can hazard a guess. Prior to his passport being seized, his intention had been to spend a couple of nights in London before flying out to visit his brother in Kurdistan. During his interminable wait for immigration officers to make enquiries, fill out forms and return to him with a decision, we are privy to his innermost thoughts as he relives his past and recalls events from the Iraq War.
Granta Books acquired the UK and Commonwealth rights to Asymmetry in a seven-way auction in 2016. The editorial director, Bella Lacey, has described the author as an “exceptional new American writer” and the book’s release on 1st March 2018 as “a major publishing event” – and yes, it’s quite true that the novel has generated excitement in literary circles. But why?
The Milan-based author, Lisa Halliday has written a startling début about power-play, in which literary and musical references abound. The characters are believable and likeable misfits, and the dialogue sharp and frequently amusing. I enjoyed the first part of the book, entitled Folly, far more than the second (II Madness), for its droll wordplay and New York-Jewish humour, although there were times when I found the pernickety Pulitzer Prize-winning Ezra Blazer extremely irritating and so much wished Alice would be more assertive.
Asymmetry is a story in which nothing and nobody is equal. It is inventive, compelling and altogether unforgettable. We should expect to hear a great deal more of its promising author over the coming months.