When you read a lot of fiction you tend to come across the same stories again and again, so when something highly original arrives on the desk it’s a shot of adrenaline to the brain. This week’s books are both fantastic pieces of storytelling that are indefinable but utterly compelling.
First up we have the thrillingly evocative Nina X by Ewan Morrison. This is Morrison’s first novel in seven years, but it’s been worth the wait. The story is told through the journals of Nina, a young woman recently rescued
from a bizarre communist cult based in a London house. The story switches between Nina’s journals post-release and her earlier diaries as a young girl inside the cult from 16 years previously.
What quickly transpires is that Nina was born and raised in the cult, and has been deprived knowledge and access to the outside world almost completely in a misguided effort to make her a more ‘pure’ vessel of communist ideology at the hands of her charismatic male cult leader and his female disciples. We also get comments on those earlier diaries from other cult members, as well as typographical self-edits, as Nina, known as The Project, tries to correct her own ‘faulty’ thinking and language.
At heart, this is an emotional story about trauma and survival, but it’s funny along the way too. Morrison has a lot of fun poking at both the tenets of communism and the appalling brazenness of capitalism and consumerism. On her release, Nina struggles hopelessly to come to terms with the wider world, almost preferring the familiar abuse of her previous life to the uncertainty and confusion that faces her.
The narrative voice in Nina X is an absolute triumph – completely unique and yet empathetic and familiar at the same time. The reader’s heart breaks because of Nina’s situation, both before and after her release, and Morrison expertly crafts an emotional climax that leaves a burning impression on the mind long after the final page is turned. A wonderful, disturbing, brilliant book.
And voice is also key to our second superb novel, From the Wreck by Australian author Jane Rawson. This is Rawson’s third book and is part-historical fiction, part-sci-fi romp that has rightly won a bunch of prizes Down Under.