Chair of judges Shoshana Boyd Gelfand said: “This year’s Wingate long list was so strong it was an almost impossible task to agree on just six titles for a short list.
“Throughout our process we agreed to consider each book on its own merit, based on our agreed criteria. The result is that five of our six chosen books are works of fiction – something we believe reflects the extraordinarily high quality of fiction submissions this year, which we found to be an exciting development for the field of Jewish writing. The judges felt that many of our chosen short list have used the power of fiction to address important historical, political and ethical themes in ways which are usually addressed by works of non-fiction.
“In addition, four of our six books are written by women, another positive development and one that we hope continues. When we started our judging process, we hoped to discover books that explored Jewish issues in novel and compelling ways. Without exception, these short list books fulfill those expectations. We hope all readers will feel similarly.”
The first part of this novel (which takes the form of three interconnected stories) is a fictionalised account of the affair Lisa Halliday had with the novelist Philip Roth when she was in her twenties (and he was in his sixties). It’s a testament to her skill as a writer that this is not the most interesting thing about the book. Asymmetry’s other sections include a skilful tale of the Iraq War and an episode of Desert Island Discs. Lisa Halliday is a writer to watch.
Halliday’s structure shows exquisite control of leitmotif and patterning; each half gradually intensifies in emotion to reach a devastating climax. The weakest note is the epilogue, a transcript of a Desert Island Discs interview, in which Blazer is reported to have won the Nobel Prize, approves of the method of the novel we are close to finishing, and attempts to seduce Kirsty Young, the presenter. I see why it is there: to make it easier for the reader to connect the two narratives that have gone before, but it lacks their lightness of touch. Blazer’s record choices do, however, make for a great playlist, and listening to them will call further attention to the ambitious music of this exceptional debut.
Lisa Halliday’s striking debut is certainly – as the title implies – a sharp examination of the unequal power dynamic between men and women, innocence and experience, fame and aspiration. Through its fractured structure and daring incompleteness, it also explores the unreliability of memory, the accidents of history and the exercise and understanding of creativity. Most of all, it wonders whether we can ever “penetrate the looking-glass” of our own personality to imagine another consciousness – a question as relevant to human relationships as it is to novel writing...This is a debut asking a dizzying number of questions, many to thrilling effect. That it leaves the reader wondering is a mark of its success.
As you search for the symmetries in “Asymmetry,” you won’t find one key that will unlock all its mysteries — this book is musical, not architectural in structure; themes don’t build on each other as much as chime and rhyme, repeat and harmonize, so what we receive is less a series of thesis statements than a shimmering web of associations; in short, the world as we know it.