Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

A walk on the wild side…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

NightshiftMeggie has come to live in London from her home in South Africa, largely to get away from her hypercritical mother. She has an office job which she finds dull, and a boyfriend, Graham, whom she loves, but she’s reluctant to settle for a long-term relationship – she feels as if she wants something more from life than marriage and children, but she isn’t sure what. Then one day Sabine comes to work in the office and Meggie finds herself immediately fascinated by this beautiful, enigmatic young woman. They form a tentative friendship, or so it seems to Meggie, and when Sabine decides to move to the nightshift, Meggie follows. Years later, she is looking back at this period of her life in the dying days of the last millennium, and telling the story of her obsession with Sabine…

Not much more than novella length, this short novel is a wonderfully believable depiction of a young woman who’s not yet sure who she is, nor of how to go about finding out. Meggie is undoubtedly obsessed with Sabine, but in a sense Sabine is merely the catalyst who forces Meggie to realise her dissatisfaction with her boringly normal life. Meggie can’t decide whether she wants to be Sabine’s lover – she’s never thought of herself as lesbian before, but she finds Sabine exciting. Or perhaps it’s that she wants to be Sabine – to be the woman whom other people see as exotic, mysterious and slightly dangerous. As she struggles to make sense of her own feelings and desires, Meggie experiments more and more with drink, drugs and casual sex, and finds herself taking risks that the old Meggie wouldn’t have considered.

This is Ladner’s début novel, and she has real talent. Her depiction is spot-on of club-going, hard-drinking, drug-fuelled youth from around the globe congregating in London in the late ’90s, forming friendships that have an immediate intimacy but no bedrock – young people who come to party, and party hard, far from the families who might provide a brake on the extremes of their behaviour, and find themselves in a city where everything is possible, or maybe nothing. Meggie’s quest to work out her sexuality, to make herself into someone new with her own place and identity in this shifting, impermanent community is beautifully done – an extreme example, admittedly, but recognisable as a part of life we all go through to a degree as we move into adulthood. In Meggie’s case, the whole thing is given a kind of hallucinatory edge, not only because of the drink and drugs, but because of the nocturnal life she is leading and the insomnia this brings on.

Kiare Ladner
Kiare Ladner

The writing is great and, apart from a brief dip about a third of the way through when it gets a little bogged down in repetition, the pace flows well. It becomes very dark towards the end, both harrowing and sad, but again both aspects are handled well and sensitively – Ladner avoids the sensationalism that could easily have made this feel too unpleasantly voyeuristic. Although it’s billed as being about obsession and desire, and certainly both those things are present, it’s really more of a dark coming-of-age tale, and an in-depth character study of Meggie written in her own words, with all the possible unreliability that entails. The ending shows Ladner’s skill at its best – it seems as if all the questions are answered and yet the feeling I am left with is of an enigma unsolved.

Dark and disturbing, it is nonetheless full of humanity and sympathy for human frailty. An excellent début – I recommend it highly and am keen to see where Ladner takes us next.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Picador via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

53 thoughts on “Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

  1. This sounds excellent, I remember seeing it on one of your TBR posts and thinking it was something I would probably enjoy. I wasn’t sure whether it was the kind of thing you would like, but I’m glad it worked out. You seem to be having quite good luck with random review copies of contemporary fiction at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t sure it’d be for me either, but I think being set in London at the period when I was living down there as a still youngish single gave it an added interest. Hmm… in truth I’m abandoning as many as I’m enjoying, but at too early a stage to review. However, so long as there are some gems in there, it’s still worth digging!

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  2. This sounds fascinating – I thought I would like it when you wrote about it in a TBR post and it definitely sounds like it would be up my street, if a bit darker than I anticipated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a good bit darker than I expected too and much less thrillery than the blurb had made me think. But the dark stuff was handled very well – still disturbing but it felt right for the story, and not at all gratuitous. Well worth reading!

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    • Really? That’s a full year after it came out over here! I don’t think the publishing industry has got back to normal after all the lockdowns yet – publishing dates seem to be all over the place.

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  3. This sounds absolutely fascinating, FictionFan! I do like it when psychological explorations like this don’t get melodramatic. And these sound like believable characters, too. I can imagine someone like Maggie becoming fascinated with someone like Sabine. And the context really sounds right for the story. Glad you enjoyed it so well.x

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    • Yes, it was set during the time I was living in London, and although I was a few years older than the girls in the book, I found the setting and characters very recognisable. And although it does go to some very dark places, they seemed right for the story – not thrown in just for effect. A very promising debut!

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  4. This sounds like a very interesting book. I will look for it at my library. I’m not sure what attracts me to this story, as I don’t think I can relate to her, but I’m curious nonetheless.

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    • Funnily enough, I related to her far more than I expected to – not the extreme stuff, but that feeling of trying to work out who we are going to be as adults once we stop just being our parents’ children, if you know what I mean. If you do go for it, I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

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  5. This sounds fascinating! I think I could enjoy a story like this from the safe vantage point of my boringly normal life. 😉 I’ll have to watch for its release over here. (and in reality, I will probably have forgotten about it by then. 🙄)

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    • Haha, in comparison to Meggie’s my life is certainly boringly normal – thank goodness! But it’s set during the time that I was living as a singleton in London, and just a few years older than the girls in the book, so I found a lot of it very recognisable even if I didn’t walk on the wild side quite as much as they did… 😉

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  6. Yay, I am glad you found a good one amongst the contemporary fiction novels. I seem to remember that you DNF’ed left, right and centre at some point. I love the sound of this one and London as a setting is obviously an extra bonus.

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    • I still am – I seem to be abandoning two, loving two, repeat. But the good thing is I’m not finding too many that are just OK. I actually prefer to hate books than to feel I’ve invested a lot of time for not very much.

      This one is great, and I thought her London felt very authentic, that being roughly the time I was living down there. 😀

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    • To be honest, all the drink, drugs and sex coming-of-age stuff would normally be a big no-no for me, so it’s a real tribute to the author that I liked it so much. I think you might too… 😀

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  7. Oohh I like this sounds of this one! A bit different than what you typically pick up, no? Still, the fact that it can convey this much in such a short time is a true sign of the writers talent!

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    • Yes, I’m trying to get back to reading more contemporary fiction – I’ve been neglecting it the last couple of years. I thought she did a brilliant job of pacing the story so that it felt just the right length.

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  8. This was a great [well written!] review journey as I moved in and out of thinking whether I wanted to read this book, and then ended up with “sold!”. Interested too to hear your validation of its time and place authenticity.

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    • Oh good – I hope you enjoy it! Yes, I’m sure it had an extra resonance for me because it was so close in time to my own London days, and I did find the transient international community very familiar. There was a tendency for Londoners not to befriend incomers so much – I suspect they were fed up with their city being swamped all the time – so incomers tended to all make friendships with each other, which were intense at the time and then usually ended as people returned home or moved on. A strange life…

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  9. I was single and living alone in London in the mid-to-late 90s so feel this might strike a chord with me, it wasn’t the most happy time although I learned a lot and looking back was pretty strong and resilient in the end. Not sure if it will get too dark for me, though … Will see if it presents itself to me at some point.

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    • Ha, we must have been there at the same time – you, me and eight million other people! I found it difficult at first – it’s so crowded it becomes an exceptionally lonely place, I think. I’ve never suffered from homesickness the way I did for my first year or so. Happily I then developed my own group of friends and it was fine after that, but I was still delighted when the chance eventually came for me to come home. I love London, but I don’t want to live there…

      This one does get pretty harrowing, so pick your time carefully.

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      • Oh that’s funny, isn’t it! I lived in Peckham, then Brockley, then New Cross Gate; moved into central London with my now-husband for the last 18 months or so. I made friends from work in the end, and worked for a New Deal for Communities so knew more local people then too but it took a while. I was glad to get away and only really visit now for my best friend and a couple of shops.

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        • I lived out in Hounslow which was my first real experience of living in a multicultural area. I loved some things about it, but felt like an outsider there, and it never came to feel like like “home”. But I made friends through work and loved the access to theatre and galleries and so on. It’s a piece of life that I’m glad I had and feel I gained a lot from, but more in retrospect than when it was actually happening, if you know what I mean.

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