From one point of view, you might see the narrator’s fate as a lesson in how trying to tell stories of suffering boils down to privilege she doesn’t have. But the novel casts doubt on the enterprise in any case, which even seems quixotic or, at times, plain whimsical. In the end, the only view we have of the story comes from the perspective of the perpetrator, chillingly unmoved, depending on whether or not you’re prepared to get symbolic about the poker-faced descriptions of his ablutions that occupy much of the novel’s first half... That isn’t a comfortable place to be left, but Minor Detail suggests anything else might be little more than wish fulfilment.
The atmosphere is one of unbearable tension, measured by the increasing anxiety of the dog who stands as helpless sentry over the girl. He howls and cries, pants and trembles, barking endlessly. Shibli’s writing is calm and tightly controlled, lyrical in its descriptions of cruelty and uncertainty. The terror Shibli evokes intensifies slowly, smouldering, until it is shining off the page.