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News & Reviews
Lionel Shriver’s brand new novella The Standing Chandelier tells the story of Jillian Frisk and Weston Babansky, two former lovers who have held an intense friendship lasting a quarter of a century. Jillian is a loud and opinionated woman with an artistic sensibility, while Weston is a natural introvert.
The story centres around an artwork created by Jillian, known as the “Standing Chandelier”, a symbol that is representative of her life and everything in it.
When Weston becomes involved with a new woman, Paige, his friendship with Jillian is truly tested and becomes increasingly threatened. Paige gives Weston an ultimatum when he proposes marriage – stop seeing Jillian. She says, “I couldn’t stand her when I met her, and I can’t stand her now that I’ve gotten to know her better”. When Weston and Paige are given the Standing Chandelier as a pre-wedding gift, the question arises as to whether it is a simple gift of friendship, or something more devious. And Weston starts to question whether it is possible for a man and woman to ever be “just friends”.
The prose throughout the novella is incredibly intelligent, pulling me in from page one. Shriver involves a lot of depth when crafting her characters, and both Weston and Jillian come across as fully-formed and believable individuals in the novella’s 122 pages. The way that the characters’ frailties and insecurities play off each other, to a miserable end, is beautifully achieved.
This story asks many tensely awkward questions about our social natures, the emotional risks of intimacy and the limits of friendship.
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Home Fire is a powerful reimagining of Sophocles' Antigone, a Greek tragedy about the daughter of Oedipus following her father's death. The novel moves the themes of Antigone into contemporary times, and features two Muslim families with very different perspectives on how to display their beliefs.
The novel introduces a young Muslim woman named Isma who has spent many years raising her two twin siblings, Parvais and Anneka, following the death of their mother and grandmother. The family of three has long been under the surveillance of the British security service as their father was a known jihadist. Now that her siblings are old enough to look after themselves, Isma decides to move to Massachusetts to complete her interrupted education.
The novel is narrated in alternating chapters by five main characters, and each succeeding chapter increases its intensity. By the time we hear from Aneeka, the story radically changes, becoming super charged when we learn that Anneka’s twin brother Parvaiz has disappeared to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The novel displays a confidence not only in prose but in how the story is related. Complex issues are explored, including familial love, youthful mistakes, and the power of forgiveness. It also delves into the extreme methods used to recruit young people to the Islamic terrorist cause.
There were some missed opportunities, including conversations and interactions between characters. However, I did appreciate the deep thinking it inspired, and I ended up in a place far removed from my expectations at the beginning. Home Fire has well-deservedly been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.