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Highlights in the Charts

I'm A Fan by Sheena Patel

Reviewed by Jenna Tomlinson

Sheena Patel's debut novel is a force of nature. Grappling with the intimate knowledge social media offers us into the lives of others, it poses the question of what it’s like to spend your days obsessing over someone you have never actually met, and then slaps you in the face with the answer.

Patel's novel is searing and unflinchingly combative. Each acerbic chapter seers and burns, rushing towards the reader as a stream of venomous consciousness from the unnamed narrator. She is messy and blunt; an anti-hero who is desperate to ease the fervent feelings she has as she glowers behind the identical frames of social media stalking the woman she is obsessed with and the man she wants to be with. Each time she logs on she is met with more of the world of the woman she is obsessed with – friends, family, where she shops and what she buys. If she wanted to, the narrator could curate a near-identical life through affiliate links and recommendations.

Each chapter is busy and bustling, sweeping you up as it fizzes along with a nervous, jealous rage. These characters are not unobtainable fiction; you know them: influencers, power-hungry abusers, obsessive fans; unreliable narrators and vengeful scorned lovers. Patel draws a number of parallels in the book: between Victorian factory owners overseeing workers and our current constant surveillance by the Government and media; between her fearful reaction at an enclosed art event and the everyday instincts and fear that women live with as they navigate life. Each of these reminds you of the ease with which society has come full circle in a way that is normally only noticed positively through the likes of fashion and music: here it is dark and unnerving instead.

Recently, Patel spoke about I'm A Fan at the Manchester Literature Festival. Discussing the type of art that makes you fearful: that guttural, visceral reaction caused by being intrigued by something that is not enjoyable; she discussed how she wanted this book to be similar ­­– a look at race, class and envy that isn't designed to be palatable or comfortable. One of the most unique things about the book is the nuanced detail of mundane things we all see and do on social media. The typography captions of motivational phrases; the small businesses ran as hobbies by nepo-babies; the dedications and posts aimed at people who do not use the platforms and by default will therefore never see such posts. The unnamed narrator delivers these with the sarcasm and vitriol we would show when mocking such posts with friends and this served to make the characters much more three-dimensional and relatable.

We highly recommend this book. It was such a quick read, but it left us excited to discuss it with friends. It’s provocative and we can't wait to see what Patel writes next.

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi

Reviewed by Arabella Peets

In this dark but funny debut novel, we follow Anisa, a Pakistani translator in her thirties living in London, making a small living by subtitling Bollywood movies. That is until her boyfriend introduces her to an elite, invite-only organisation called The Centre.

Cult-like and secretive, The Centre promises fluency in any language in only ten days by putting its translators through an immersive process. The process? They sit and listen to the Storytellers: people telling their life stories in their respective languages and by the fifth or sixth day, they can understand them perfectly, as if by magic.

First learning German, then Russian, enables Anisa to have the translation career she has dreamed of. But as she becomes integrated within the organisation, she soon realises the hidden cost of their services.

The Centre dives deep into the politics of language and raises several questions about what it means to know a language. If you can become fluent without working for it, have you earned the right to know it? Is it a privilege to learn it, or can it become appropriation?

It also brings up the question of understanding a language’s heritage and nuance – when Anisa’s white boyfriend learns Urdu to impress her parents, he is hailed as a hero for learning a non-white language, whilst her new European fluency is not regarded with the same respect. This started a conversation for us about whether or how you should learn a language from a culture you lack an understanding of. This book brings up a great discussion about whether you should have a relationship with a language’s culture, or if you should try to understand it first.

Yet another astonishing 2023 debut, this is a thrilling, thought-provoking novel that uses its questioning of the power of language to stand out. We adored the writing style as it flowed freely and was fast-paced whilst still beginning a conversation. We’d recommend this to anyone who is interested in languages, wants to read something powerful about nuance or just likes thrillers.


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