By Lisa Halliday

The Short Take:

This novel is amazing! It consists of two very different sections that seem to have nothing in common until a third section brings them together in all their asymmetry. It’s an outstanding first novel. Heck, it would make an outstanding 10th novel.


From the very first paragraphs you know you’ve found something special. The main character, Alice, is sitting outside, avoiding reading her book with “long paragraphs and no quotation marks.” While not the same words they form a fun-house mirror image of Lewis Carroll’s opening for his Alice. This 20-something Alice indeed goes down the rabbit hole, starting an affair with a 70-something famous and acclaimed writer — a mirror image of Philip Roth.

Part romance, part training for the budding young writer, this section, Folly, glitters with humor, engaging dialogue, and observations on love, life, and the arts. It practically dances forward, brightly skimming the surface of emotions and relationships.

The second section, Madness, couldn’t be more different. It centers on a thoughtful, mild-mannered Iraqi-American, Amar. While detained at Heathrow Airport he reviews his life and his inner self. Here the dialogue is serious, situations are dangerous, but hope endures. Reflections on religion, his family’s history, and news reporting are all a part of his emotional inner journey while he goes nowhere at the airport.

The two sections seem to have nothing but the faintest of connections — until you arrive at the final part of the book. Then you want to immediately go back and start reading all over again, because your second reading will be even richer and more rewarding than the first.

A Little Plot:

This has been largely covered above: A May-December affair between Alice, a young would-be writer, and a very successful and famous one. This is followed by the travails and deep thoughts of Amar, an Iraqi-American with passports for both countries who has come up against endless bureaucracy at Heathrow Airport and uses that time to review his life through his memories.

It’s all about asymmetry — in ages, in circumstances, in everything.

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