This is Lisa Halliday’s first novel and the first thing that came to my mind when I started reading it is how well the language flows. The key characters are well developed and memorable – particularly the Nobel prize winning writer. It has been written beautifully and in a much more self-assured style than that of a first time author. This is true not only of the language but also of the structure of the book. It has been classified as a novel and I can see why – but just about.
Asymmetry is a story (or rather two stories) of imbalance – of age, power, relationship, wealth. The first story follows the love affair of a 70 year old writer with a much younger editor. The second story – seemingly completely unrelated – follows the life story of a second generation Kurdish in the US and his experiences at London’s Heathrow airport while in transit. Through the two unrelated stories, Lisa draws out the asymmetry in relationships due to the inherent asymmetry in theirs status – either through age or wealth or nationality. The third and final section of the book is presented in the form of a radio interview of the writer (from the first story) after he wins the Nobel prize. Through the interview, the author conveys some of this philosophy, though I am not quite sure if I understood all the nuances.
On the overall, it is a short but delightfully different reading experience. It does not fit the definition of a novel but is witty, intelligent and frequently thought-provoking. The author also displays her significant skill through very different writing styles across the three sections of the book – all equally well written and interesting.