Author: Lisa Halliday
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Asymmetry is defined as: lack of equality or equivalence between parts or aspects of something; lack of symmetry (dictionary.com).
Certainly there is little that is equal in Lisa Halliday's book. Broken into three parts we have:
1) A story of a 20-something woman and her affair (love?) with a man over 80.
2) The dialogue and back story of a dual citizen (Iraqi and American) man detained at an airport.
3) An interview with the 80-something man and a radio host about his writing and interpretation of the world. Apparently this interview is adapted from a real-life one so the ah-ha's in it are not necessarily that of Halliday but of the original writer that spoke.
Obviously 1 and 3 have a common bond; they both include our 80-something male who is a writer. His commentary on the world and his interpretation in literature can be thinly linked back to the events that happen to our man in part 2. But boy do you have to think... a lot!
How Much Thinking Is Too Much?
When I first read Animal Farm in Grade 8 I was greatly impacted by it's prose and set-up as an allegory. I thought it was so clever. My teacher at the time suggested I read Lord of the Flies following Animal Farm, and again my 13-year-old self was shaken by how easy it was to tell a complex story when you took all the known or assumed things out of it. I loved the cleverness of this literature back then and still do today. So I was intrigued when I read the blurb for Asymmetry and a review from the New York Times that you had to be a 'smart reader' in order to really get this book. They were not kidding!
All three parts are very interesting stories on their own. Part 1 has no plot, but has excellent character development. Part 2 has plot that happens in a very short span of time and so most of the story is the history being told to us by our leading man while he engages with the plot. Part 3, the radio interview, has some very profound things to say about writing literature and how to ensure you are not unintentionally influenced by the outside world. But put them all together and it requires way too much analysis and discussion to make even the most subtle of links. Reading the questions at the back of the book meant for book clubs still barely got me to see any plausible link(s) between the stories.
I Read to Be Entertained or Informed
The average person reads in order to be entertained. Some may read to be informed (non-fiction or biography fit well here). I generally read for both purposes and love books where I'm not only entertained but learn something (ie: historical fiction, political fantasy, etc.). Even if that learning is not fact but more of a general idea or concept to think on that was employed in the fictional story (ie: communism, friendship, survival, etc.)
If you read to be entertained in any way you might find these stories, as I did, interesting on their own (even if lacking some substance). For those who like to be informed, you might learn about the difficulties folks with two passports go through at airports (or the injustice of being denied entry into a country); or you might have a new perspective on a 50+ age difference in a relationship. That said I doubt you will feel informed or entertained when trying to connect the two together.
All that said, Halliday's writing is absolutely wonderful! This is the primary reason I give this novel any stars at all. I kept wanting to turn the page even when I wasn't totally interested in the story. Only a master writer can tell a story you only marginally care about and still make you keep wanting to turn pages. I will certainly look into future fiction that she writes.
As for the Asymmetrical 'connection', I cannot in good faith say it was positive as I did not get it, or am too lazy to think hard enough about it to get it. (lol) Maybe my subconscious made some sort of link between the stories; but ultimately I'm not interested in putting in the time and effort to really get anywhere. This could however make a good book club pick if your group likes to be challenged.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.