A young woman called Alice who works as an editor at a New York City publishing house meets renowned novelist Ezra Blazer in the park and soon begins a May – December romance. Thus begins the first part of Lisa Halliday’s debut novel Asymmetry.
The timing of this story couldn’t be better. Post Weinstein and in the era of #metoo, the author’s exploration of a relationship where the participants are far from equal and where the older, more experienced, richer and more powerful male calls all the shots couldn’t be more prescient. Ms Halliday clearly shows the asymmetry in Ezra and Alice’s relationship as it develops. Ezra calls Alice when he wants to see her. He tells her when to go home. He tells her what to wear, what to read. He makes her keep their relationship secret, introducing her as an assistant when he meets some of his friends.
It’s not all one sided though. Alice learns a lot about life and herself at Ezra’s side and Ezra pays off her college debt and teaches her how to really write although she wonders if she could ever truly lose herself to write from the viewpoint of someone who was different to her in every way.
Ezra’s advanced years bring many health problems and it is only when the author explores this aspect of their lives that the power seems to move in Alice’s favour.
The second part of the book takes us to Heathrow Airport where an Iraqi-American Muslim is detained while trying to pass through en route to visiting his doctor brother in Kurdistan. We are told Amar’s story in flashback and are shown how his family struggled with fitting in to America, a country to different to everything they have known before. Again, the author plays with themes of inequality and the economic, cultural and religious differences not only between America and Iraq, but also between Amar as a westernized Iraqi and the traditions of his family.
The final and shortest part of the book is a transcript of an episode of Desert Island Discs. Kirsty Young, although not named, fairly leaps off the page.
No doubt some of the first part of the book is semi-autobiographical. Halliday had a relationship with Phillip Roth when she worked as an editor in her 20s. I’m not worried that the author will have to mine her personal experiences for further books as part two is totally outwith her direct experience and reads perfectly believably.
Asymmetry is astonishingly good. The more I think about this book, the more I find in it to think about. Definitely a book to stay with me.
I apologise for the poor writing in this review but I’m in the middle of a fibroflare and suffering from good old fibro fog. This book is excellent. Highly recommended.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.