Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

"Things we have in common" by Tasha Kavanagh (Canongate, 2015)

In this first person novel, Yasmin, 15, is teased at school because she's overweight. Her father's died and Gary lives with her mother now. She's infatuated with Alice, a classmate ("I wanted her to know she could rely on me, that I'd never play any games with her feelings, that I'd just love her and love her and love her forever", p.55). Despite all the contra-evidence, any act of friendliness by Alice is treated by Yasmin as a sign of Alice's secret lesbian nature. Yasmin sees a dog-walker stare at Alice and develops a detailed idea that the dog-walker (referred to as "You") is going to abduct Alice. Alice abducts the dog and returns it to its owner, thus finding his name (Sam, who's about 40) and address. His mother has recently died. She offers to regularly walk the dog for him. He reluctantly agrees.

During the conversation Yasmin has with the man, she's convinced he's going to try to attack her, yet she coolly uses and observes conversational tactics. Perhaps she continues the liaison because she's just fallen out with her mother and has no-one else in the world to talk to, and likes dogs. Every so often she has reality checks - "Then I told myself to calm down. I told myself I was obsessing and letting things get out of perspective", p.84; "the last thing I needed to do was start obsessing about the dog of the man who was going to take Alice. I told myself, get a bloody grip!", p.86.

Then she suddenly switches obsessions. She throws away her Alice souvenirs - "I mean, I couldn't go on fantasising about me and Alive forever when she was never going to like me. It was a childish schoolgirl fantasy ... now I had something better than fantasy. I had you", p.125.

How believable is this first person voice and the psychological condition? As a novelistic device I guess it works. Her insights are patchy - fair enough, though it's suspicious that the less realistic aspects of her behaviour are the very aspects that shape the narrative.

Then Alice disappears. My money's on the step-father. Yasmin lies to cover up her fantasies about Alice and her meetings with Sam, but her family is taken in by the police for individual questioning. While the police search their house, Yasmin's given a hotel room. She goes off to see Sam and walks his dog to the shops, which seems rather careless. But by now she's imagining her and Sam living together. The overriding moral is that the need to love and be loved can be stronger than family, sexual orientation, reality or even self-preservation.

Given that the novel's presented through the thoughts of a 15 y.o. there are many opportunities for the author to stray out of character. The voice seemed ok to me. Sometimes the diction and coherence surprises, sometimes the daftness seems wrong for someone of that age, but 15 year-olds can be like that, so I'm told. I was impressed by the dialogue - its appropriate diversity - and the novel's final line.

Other reviews

  • Sam Jordison (The Guardian) (First-person narrative that poignantly captures the loneliness of an unlovable teenager who makes even her own mother feel uncomfortable)
  • Sarah Gilmartin (Irish Times)
  • Katy Guest (Independent)
  • The bookbag (I'm very much in two minds about this book. The portrait of Yasmin is exquisite. ... On the other hand I'm not convinced by the plot)

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