The stunning second novel from the author of Sympathy is told from the point of view of Anya, and takes place mostly over three trips: a drive to Provence for a holiday with her distant, uncommunicative boyfriend Luke; a visit to his parents in Cornwall; and a trip back to Sarajevo to see her family. It transpires that Anya escaped Sarajevo during the war, sent to live with relatives in Glasgow and now her long-suppressed memories are resurfacing. A beautifully written and deeply unsettling exploration of trauma and a young woman on the edge.
Sudjic’s novel is full of raw emotion and visceral description: the sky is a pink ‘so saccharine my teeth began to ache’, while future children are ‘bloblike shapes, legs blotted with pink bruises’. Like Sarajevo’s abandoned buildings, pockmarked with bullet holes, the prose is studded with gut-punching sentences. Contemplating the way people have spoken to her about the siege, Anya recalls a woman at a wedding who ‘blinked at me kindly and said it must be sad when your country no longer exists, then returned to pulverising her asparagus’.
Asylum Road is a novel pervaded by a genuinely unnerving sense of anxiety, dread and unease, and there’s something admirable in the stubborn way in which Sudjic refuses to cut her readers any slack. Her writing is raw and fragmented, mimicking Anya’s own disintegrating sense of self, not that this necessarily makes her character any easier to understand. Despite the supposed intimacy of the first-person narration, Anya’s disquiet and apprehension fracture outward, running like fault lines through the prose. The results — at least in the first section of the book — can be disorientating.