Titan Books, out now
An interconnected tale of love, identity and loss.
Nina Allan’s debut novel will stay with you for long after you’ve finished The Race and returned it to the shelf (or passed it on to someone who’s going to enjoy it – it’s one of those books that you will want to share, if only to have someone to discuss its many ramifications with, and it’s one you’re going to want to reread). It’s a melange of great ideas that passes between various realities (possibly including our own – but even that I’m not totally sure about) as it weaves its tale of a kidnapped child, a writer coming to terms with her past, and those around them both.
It begins in an almost traditional parallel world style, with elements of a Southern England that we can recognise, but seen slightly skew-whiff, as if through a distorting mirror. There, smartdogs have an incredible link with their owners, and life is recovering in some ways after a terrible conflict. The narrator’s niece is the kidnapped child and her disappearance triggers a series of catastrophic events, some on a personal, family level; others on a much larger scale.
The next section is where things start to turn strange, as it seems we’re now in our own reality, with a writer whose brother is as irresponsible in his own way as the child’s father – and there are questions over the fate of those who cross the paths of each of them. Some of those are answered in the second half of the book as others’ tales are related (it would spoil the book to talk too much about who they are and how they tie things together – suffice it to say they do in some ways, while in others it’s very much down to the reader).
There’s a sequence quite early on where one of the narrators remembers looking in a mirror and believing that the mirror image of herself she sees isn’t actually a reflection, but her equivalent from a separate reality looking through at her – and that’s the imagery that’s at the centre of the whole book. In the bathroom where I happened to be staying when I wrote this review, the owner of the house has pasted a photo of a young woman next to the mirror – and although I know rationally that the two images (original and reflection) are the same, somehow they do look just slightly different (which of course is a product of various scientific principles, I know!). Each of the sections of this book is its own slightly differently refracted version of the reality – even the bits that you think initially are “the same” – but rather than becoming a confused mess, they somehow produce a whole that works.
Allan’s writing makes you constantly question the assumptions you’ve subconsciously been making as you read the book, and challenges the reader on many levels. It’s a powerful work, and one I shall enjoy returning to over the coming years.
Verdict: A strange, affecting and powerful novel. 9/10