Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Genie and Paul

If I had to liken this novel to anything it would be a snowball in motion. The story starts rolling on a seemingly gentle slope with two episodes; in the aftermath of a cyclone a young boy's new friend washes up on a distant shore. Six weeks prior, Genie awakes in a London hospital, abandoned by her brother. Natasha Soobramanien then slowly increases the incline as the tale of the titular siblings unfurls to its dramatic conclusion.

This is a unique book, and one I quickly came to love. In a loose reworking of Bernardin de Saint Pierre's Paul et Virginie, Genie and Paul are siblings struggling to reconcile love, identity and family against their shared, but different, backgrounds.

Soobramanien is a fantastic talent and I loved the simplicity of both her prose and the messages at the heart of this book. Genie's unconditional love for her brother sees her travelling across continents, forgiving him beyond expectations. Meanwhile, Paul seeks out the land of his childhood memories, a land that has changed to the point of no longer existing outside Paul's recollection, and sets off on a doom-riddled road to fulfil his quest. Along the way we meet a range of characters who provide their perspectives in short chapters that almost felt like police evidence statements. This worked brilliantly in moving on the story, particularly in Genie's sections, as I felt like I was gathering the clues with her and finding out the story as she did.

Although this book straddles locations (Mauritius, Rodrigues and London), familiarity with any of these places is not necessary to enjoy this book. Themes of family and identity, of love and loss, are unquestionably universal and Soobramanien is masterful in creating a raw tale which not only made me think but saw me scrabbling back through my Kindle to re-read and re-capture the best bits. The prologue is definitely worth a read after the final page as your impression will completely change.

Initially I was unsure how this would be as a Tube read. Being greeted with dense text on opening a book usually means difficulty in the necessary dipping in and out commuting demands. I'm glad I was proven wrong. Easy to read with beautiful turns of phrase, I know this book will stay with me for some time.

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