‘Asylum Road’ by Olivia Sudjic.
Gulf Today Report
We are introduced early on to Anya, the 31-year-old protagonist of Olivia Sudjic’s second novel, “Asylum Road.”
Anya obsessively worries about her life, her scarred past, her family and, in particular, her relationship with her partner Luke, in The Independent’s review of the novel.
It’s no coincidence that her actions are described in war metaphors because Anya is still traumatised by her escape from war-torn Sarajevo.
Sudjic discloses Anya’s past layer by layer, revealing the story of her traumatic upbringing in small, telling details, such as the way dogs were shot “because it transpired dogs could anticipate a shelling.”
War criminals such as Ratko Mladić are peripheral figures.
We see modern-day Croatia, where souvenir shops sell pepper pots made from shrapnel, through the eyes of someone whose mental health has been severely affected by uncertainty and destruction.
Anya yearns for stability and reliability in her relationship with Luke.
But will he offer more than just an empty promise of security?
Their problematic relationship is at the heart of the story and Sudjic’s depiction is assured and deft, capturing the controlling behaviour and tension of a relationship mired in a “psychic war.”
The novel is set in London, coastal Provence, Cornwall, and Croatia.
The two extended family set-pieces are full of awkwardness and sly humour.
When the couple visit Luke’s parents in Cornwall (to celebrate their engagement), we see Luke’s domineering mother Anne through Anya’s sardonic lens.
The visit to Anya’s family, whom she has not seen for over six years, is no less fraught.
Her mother has Alzheimer’s and Anya finds she wants to flee as soon as possible.
When she returns to London, everything comes to a head in the final section of the novel.
“Asylum Road”is a fragmented, unsettling story, and an interesting meditation on modern relationships, families, guilt and what happens when escape starts to feel more like exile.
The book is about the many borders governing our lives: between men and women, assimilation and otherness, nations, families, order and chaos.
The novel is at its best in small, haunting moments.
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