Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday


I was pleased to have the opportunity to receive a copy of Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, Asymmetry. And it was one I was keen to read given that it has received the Whiting Award for fiction ahead of its publication on the 1st March.

The book is split into three sections. The first two are contrasting novellas, both very different in tone and style. And the third section is the final piece of the puzzle, the one which ties the whole novel together. The first story, titled ‘Folly’ takes place in New York in the early noughties. Here the reader is introduced to Alice, a young editor whose path crosses with that of Ezra Blazer, a famous author and the recipient of many a literary accolade. Despite a significant age gap, with Alice being decades younger than Ezra, the pair embark on an affair. Over the course of this first story, we see how their relationship develops, and the way it impacts on them as a couple and as individuals. This was certainly an unusual relationship, an unconventional love in which we see contrasts in age and wealth –with Blazer at times helping Alice financially, and Alice assisting the aging author with his errands. And as we left these characters behind I wondered where their relationship would go. In the second story ‘Madness’, we see the author take a differing tone and perspective, as we meet Amar, an economist on the way to Kurdistan whose journey comes to halt when he is detained by immigration and questioned over his origins and his reasons for travelling. As he waits in a holding room, he is able to reflect on his life, and that of his relatives who are dealing with frightening events in Iraq. This story made for a compelling read, an interesting story which offered a perspective on the challenges faced by different races and religions in the modern world.

On first reading these two very different novellas, I wasn’t entirely sure what tied the two together. The change in subject matter and writing style left me wondering if I had missed the connection. The final section however, is the once which provides clues as to how they may be linked. Here we return to Ezra Blazer a few years on since we first met him and Alice in New York. Now the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, he is being interviewed for Desert Island Discs, and as he reflects on his life through his musical choices, we also get a further insight into his character, and he gives the reader a little information which could go some way to explain the connection between the stories of Alice and Amar. I feel like Asymmetry is a book which may benefit from a second reading, to pick up on the themes running through the story and to make connections that may have been overlooked the first time around. And whilst I was left wondering if there was a connection I had missed I did recognise some of the themes and the asymmetry that was used throughout. Through these characters Halliday has explored the imbalances in modern life, whether it is political and racial differences, old and young, rich and poor.

I enjoyed Asymmetry, and was intrigued by its structure and the way in which the different stories are interlinked. It was a book that I read pretty quickly, and one which left me with plenty to ponder over long after the final page. It is to be published on 1st March 2018 by Granta Books, with thanks to Natalie Shaw at Granta for providing a copy for review.

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