A walk on the wild side…
😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
Meggie 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.
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.