Saturday, 17 August 2013

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam: Women's Prize Longlist

Bonnie Nadzam
Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist

I finished Lamb this morning, tucked up in bed with a mug of coffee I was surprised to find had gone cold. It has been playing on my mind all day - did he? Didn't he? I am completely stumped by this novel. Rendered speechless (that's a first).

'His mind was unwinding like a spool of loose thread. What a man she rendered him, simply by being a girl who could be picked up and moved: what he wanted to be, what he ought to be, what was most unintelligible and unplanned and true in him when he carried her out of her fettered world to this. How powerful she was as long as she asserted no will of her own.'

David Lamb is in his fifties. Tommie is eleven. They form a rather unusual friendship/bond/relationship. I don't want to say any more than that because it is such a delicately complex novel and the slightest thing could spoil it. The blurb poses the question 'there's nothing wrong with that, is there?' That is a question that stayed with me throughout as I attempted to decipher the relationship, suss out any clues of unacceptable behaviour, and figure out what the word choices and plot points may be implying.

I think I enjoyed it. It's really hard to say. I think perhaps I am ambivalent towards it because of its ambiguity. It finished and I was, to put it succinctly, pretty much like 'wtf just happened?!' It's one of those. Not that I am complaining, I think it is very clever of Nadzam to write a novel that has no obvious conclusion and leave it to the reader to decide (I guess the outcome depends how much CSI you've watched). I would have liked to know but I definitely think the novel's power comes from us not knowing anything with any certainty.

Considering the lack of a whirlwind, thriller-y plot the novel moves very fast. Or rather, I was inclined to read it very fast. There is so much suspense, so many things being implied, and so many possible endings. Lamb is deluded, manipulative, destructive (and damaged himself) and calculating. As a reader, getting a glimpse of the bigger picture but not getting the bigger picture, we are manipulated along with Tommie. This reader manipulation is definitely the result of some impressive writing. It's a short novel so I thought I'd fly through it but I did not at all. It was a quick read but one to savour at the same time. Nadzam has quite the way with words. The desolation of the landscapes and the people is evoked wonderfully. I read and re-read sentences and paragraphs over and over just to suck in the images.

A bit of a rambling review I know, but that does reflect my thoughts completely. I think it is a brave novel, one that poses more questions than it answers and one that really does make you think about when a friendship might become inappropriate. It does earn its place on the longlist, I think, for sheer originality of plot as well as the wonderful writing. I would definitely recommend it if you fancy a book that completely messes with your head. Clever stuff.



  1. You've definitely intrigued me. I like having my head messed with by a book...

    1. It's such a weird and oddly enjoyable experience when a book has the power to really mess you up for a little while!

  2. Love that photo, looks so cozy :)

    I like a book that makes me ask wtf just happened?? This one sounds very, very interesting!

    1. So cozy! It really is interesting, I would highly recommend.

  3. It's still on my list as one of those Women's Prize books to read, and honestly it sounds sooo intriguing.

    1. It was actually one I had overlooked because I'd not heard of it before it made it on the longlist but I am so pleased I took the plunge. I would be very interested in your thoughts if you get around to reading it!


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