Alice and Amar

Excerpts (elsewhere) from Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry.
Granta Books, £14.99.
Buy direct from the publisher.

Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry has been one of the first runaway literary success stories of 2018, and not without reason. In reviewing Asymmetry for Splice, Thea Hawlin called it a “bold and provocative début novel” that “examines the asymmetries of life in the contemporary world with incisive detail and unnerving intelligence”. A number of excerpts from the book appeared online prior to its publication; here’s a roundup of the places where you can get a feel for each of its two, asymmetrical sections.

Part 1: ‘Folly’

An excerpt from the Times Literary Supplement (subscription required):

From his stomach all the way up to his sternum ran a pink, zipperlike scar. Another scar bisected his leg from groin to ankle. Two more made a faint circumflex above his hip. And that was just the front.

“Who did this to you?”

“Norman Mailer.”

While she was tugging up her tights, he got up to turn the Yankees game on. “Ooh, I love baseball,” said Alice.

“Do you? Which team?”

“The Red Sox. When I was little, my grandmother used to take me to Fenway every year.”

“Is she still alive, your grandmother?”

“Yep. Would you like her number? You’re about the same age.”

An excerpt from The Paris Review:

“I love that color,” she said, when the screen cut to a wide shot of Yankee Stadium with its grass mown into stripes that were actually two slightly different shades of emerald.

A long moment later, Ezra replied in a low and even voice: “Yes. Night-game green.”

When Jon Lieber took to the mound, Alice got up again to refresh her drink. “Would it be all right if we turned the sound on now?”

It was too loud, as though the night before they’d been watching with a dozen friends all laughing and chatting at once, and one of the announcers had a slight Southern accent that sounded almost stoned in its serenity, the other a rich, reassuring baritone not dissimilar to the one that narrated the Viagra ads. Babbling away about the bullpen, Curt Schilling’s tendon, and the “difficult conditions” presented by the weather, their voices filled the little room like disembodied dinner guests trying to ignore the tension mounting between their hosts. Forecast: Drizzle. Wind speed: 14MPH, left to right. Superimposed against the misty skyline, her and Ezra’s reflections in the yellow glow of his reading lamp had the trapped and inanimate look of dollhouse detainees. Alone together, together alone… Except of course they weren’t alone. Ezra’s pain was with them. Ezra, his pain, and Alice, barely tolerable envoy from the enraging world of the healthy.

Part 2: ‘Madness’

An excerpt from Granta:

In the center of the room a crowd of correspondents, cameramen, photographers, and contractors mingled festively, pouring drinks and cutting cigars. Most of them were men, although there were also a few women present, including one in tight white jeans being cornered by a man who, in a French accent, was explaining how the situation was not unlike Vietnam. You try to crush the resistance and in so doing you inflame the neutral population. We found Alastair out by the pool, sitting at a candlelit table cluttered with bottles and ashtrays and talking to a young American man whose hat identified him as with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Each man was working his way through a cigar, the American rather less adroitly, and because Alastair was no longer wearing his keffiyeh I saw now that while his beard was real, the black was not.

Anyone who was paying attention in the nineties, he was saying – anyone who learned anything from Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and Somalia — would have anticipated this. If you disband the military, if you fire everyone who ever worked for the government, if you take away people’s jobs, their income and their pride, what do you expect? That they’re going to sit around playing Parcheesi until you show up at their door and hand them a ballot? And if they know where the old munitions are hidden, and you aren’t guarding those either — is it really a surprise when they turn them against you?

In the pool, a series of fluorescent deck lamps reflected like a row of shimmering moons. A chin-ups bar had been installed on the far side of the water, where, as we talked, an impressively muscled silhouette strode over, sprang up, and began vigorously pistoning himself into the air. The UNHCR man, who had a Southern accent and continuously shifted his cigar from one hand to the other as though even its unlit end were unbearably hot, said:

Well, what choice did we have?

An excerpt from the Whiting Foundation, read aloud by the author:

I noted that he seemed more alive than when I’d last seen him in London five years earlier. His body now appeared more charged and alert, as though, casualties aside, he really rather preferred life in a war zone…