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Asymmetry (2018)

by Lisa Halliday

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8454321,253 (3.52)38
"Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, "Folly," tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, "Folly" also suggests an aspiring novelist's coming-of-age. By contrast, "Madness" is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda. A stunning debut from a rising literary star, Asymmetry is an urgent, important, and truly original work that will captivate any reader while also posing arresting questions about the very nature of fiction itself. A debut novel about love, luck, and the inextricability of life and art, from 2017 Whiting Award winner Lisa Halliday" --… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

English (40)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
This is a stream of consciousness novel with a whole raft of digressions, divided into two parts, Folly and Madness, with an epilogue. The first part tells the story of Mary-Alice Dodge, a young assistant book editor in New York City, and her relationship with a very much older Ezra Blazer who is a famous author with many of health issues. The second part tells of Amar Ala Jaafari, an Iraqi-American economist who is detained at Heathrow International Airport on his way to visit Alastair in London and his brother Sami in Iraq. The epilogue is an interview with Ezra Blazer detailing his early life and his love of music. ( )
  baughga | Jul 14, 2022 |
Great first section but ultimately didn't finish it ( )
  Venarain | Jan 10, 2022 |
I bailed on page 110 because this story was so disjointed. I wanted to read a more linear story, one that did not go off into a million tangents.
  SqueakyChu | Sep 13, 2021 |
Nicely written, but an MFA novel, with two unrelated sections featuring entirely different characters and situations (plus a coda that calls back to the first and artily links them), whose relationship to each other is fodder for the reading group guide in the back and the overwrought marketing copy. ( )
  wordloversf | Aug 14, 2021 |
This book got so much hype that it was almost inevitable that it would be a let down. After reading it, I listened to the author, Lisa Halliday, interviewed for the NYT "The Book Review" podcast. Retrospectively it helped to hear that the author intended the unique construction of the book - two short stories followed by an even shorter section comprised of a the dialogue of a brief interview of one of the main characters from the first story on a radio show - to have no apparent relation to each other. After the first half of the book, there is an abrupt switch to a completely different place and cast of characters. The only thing I could glean from the two halves of the book is that they both took place at a similar time - during the Iraq war.

After the first half, I was left frustrated and wanting to know more about Alice and Ezra's relationship; after the second half I was not really that interested in Amar. The final short "coda" is said to contain the clue as to how their stories fit together, but it was lost on me. I went back and re-read the final section with no additional insights. I guess I will have to read the whole book again if I really want to discover the "shocking" clue(s) . . . ( )
1 vote wagnerkim | Jul 21, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
An exceptional debut examines imbalances in love and geopolitics.
Halliday’s structure shows exquisite control of leitmotif and patterning; each half gradually intensifies in emotion to reach a devastating climax. The weakest note is the epilogue, a transcript of a Desert Island Discs interview, in which Blazer is reported to have won the Nobel Prize, approves of the method of the novel we are close to finishing, and attempts to seduce Kirsty Young, the presenter. I see why it is there: to make it easier for the reader to connect the two narratives that have gone before, but it lacks their lightness of touch. Blazer’s record choices do, however, make for a great playlist, and listening to them will call further attention to the ambitious music of this exceptional debut.
added by sneuper | editFinancial Times, Luke Brown (Mar 23, 2018)
 
Lisa Halliday’s striking debut is certainly – as the title implies – a sharp examination of the unequal power dynamic between men and women, innocence and experience, fame and aspiration. Through its fractured structure and daring incompleteness, it also explores the unreliability of memory, the accidents of history and the exercise and understanding of creativity. Most of all, it wonders whether we can ever “penetrate the looking-glass” of our own personality to imagine another consciousness – a question as relevant to human relationships as it is to novel writing. (...)
Can any of us escape our own perspective? What are the risks, if we do not? What is art for, and how do we fit our lives around it? This is a debut asking a dizzying number of questions, many to thrilling effect. That it leaves the reader wondering is a mark of its success.
added by sneuper | editThe Guardian, Justine Jordan (Feb 28, 2018)
 
And that is the magic of this exquisite, impressive book: the way it plays with influence and assumption. As Ezra notes, “Our memories are no more reliable than our imaginations, after all. But I’m the first to admit it can be irresistible, contemplating what’s ‘real’ versus ‘imagined’ in a novel.”
(...) For us, the ride is in surrendering to falling down rabbit holes to unknown places. The moment “Asymmetry” reaches its perfect ending, it’s all the reader can do to return to the beginning in awe, to discover how Halliday upturned the story again and again.
 
The leap from the novel’s first section to its second is so great, and yet so intuitively logical, that it forces the reader to rethink the Alice section entirely: It is now clear that she is not a version of Lisa Halliday, but just one of the many voices Halliday can invent, if she chooses. In its subtle and sophisticated fable of literary ambition, and the forms it can take for a young woman writer, Asymmetry is a “masterpiece” in the original sense of the word—a piece of work that an apprentice produces to show that she has mastered her trade.
added by sneuper | editThe Atlantic, Adam Kirsch (Feb 18, 2018)
 
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Alice was beginning to get very tired of all this sitting by herself with nothing to do: every so often she tried again to read the book in her lap, but it was made up almost exclusively of long paragraphs, and no quotation marks whatsoever, and what is the point of a book, thought Alice, that does not have any quotation marks?
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...for a moment Alice saw what she supposed other people would see: a healthy young woman losing time with a decrepit old man.
The pianist returned to her bench...she flung up her wrists, flared her nostrils...the woman’s shoulders rocked forward and back, her foot pumped the damper pedal so
emphatically that even her heel cleared the floor, and her head jerked wincingly up and to the side as if sparks were flying off the keyboard and threatening to enter here eyes.
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"Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, "Folly," tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, "Folly" also suggests an aspiring novelist's coming-of-age. By contrast, "Madness" is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda. A stunning debut from a rising literary star, Asymmetry is an urgent, important, and truly original work that will captivate any reader while also posing arresting questions about the very nature of fiction itself. A debut novel about love, luck, and the inextricability of life and art, from 2017 Whiting Award winner Lisa Halliday" --

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