The voice of Mona Arshi’s debut novel belongs to Ruby, a young British Indian woman. It’s an expressive voice in this written (or thought) form, but Ruby decided as a girl that she would stop speaking:
The first time I spoke out loud at school I said the word sister and tripped all over it. I tried a second time, and my tongue got caught on the middle-syllable hiss and hovered there. The third time? A teacher asked me a question, and I opened my mouth as a sort of formality but closed it softly, knowing with perfect certainty that nothing would ever come out again.
The scattered vignettes of Somebody Loves You are appropriate for a narrator who’s not used to telling a story to an audience. Still, Ruby’s tale covers a lot of ground in a relatively short length, including growing up, racism and mental health. The latter is explored through the character of Ruby’s mother, and I’m picking it out because I think it’s a good example of how Arshi’s book works.
This is how the subject is introduced:
The day my sister tried to drag the baby fox into our house was the same day my mother had her first mental breakdown.
It’s an arresting line, but one that’s at least as interested in the fox as in Ruby’s mother. Actually, in that whole short chapter, the mother’s mental breakdown is strikingly ‘off-page’. Quite a lot (though by no means all) of what happens in Somebody Loves You happens to characters other than Ruby, and of course she can’t see into their experiences – though she can observe.
Ruby notices that her mother finds respite in the garden – a defined space, so rare in this novel of hazy edges. Gardens become one of the book’s recurring motifs, an anchor point for characters and reader alike. The vignettes of Somebody Loves You build together into quite a powerful whole.
Published by And Other Stories.
Click here to read my other reviews of the 2022 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.