Review: Nightshift by Kiare Ladner (2021)

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

Blurb

Nightshift is a story of obsession set in London’s liminal world of nightshift workers.

When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognizes in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing preoccupation with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.

Dark, sexy, frightening, Nightshift explores ambivalent female friendship, sexual attraction and lives that defy easy categorization. London’s stark urban reality is rendered other-worldly and strange as Meggie’s sleep deprivation, drinking and fixation with Sabine gain a momentum all of their own. Can Meggie really lose herself in her trying to become someone else?

A novel of obsession and desire, Kiare Ladner’s Nightshift is a beautiful and moving debut which asks profound questions about who we are and if we can truly escape ourselves.

Review

Many thanks to Grace Harrison at Picador for sending me a beautiful finished copy of Nightshift in exchange for an honest review. I was very keen to read this as it sounded right up my street, with shades of Exit Management by Naomi Booth, my top book of last year. I was not disappointed. I read this stunning debut novel in one night, appropriately enough (it is the perfect companion to insomnia, by the way) because I could not put it down once I had started.

What I loved most about this book is how far beneath the surface it pushes. We are all familiar with the stories of early twenty-somethings living in the city, trying to make sense of their lives, but often it is a rather cliched, light version. If you’ll excuse the pun, it is the darkness of Nightshift that makes it so striking. Meggie, the narrator, is indeed a drifting, rootless young adult searching for some kind of meaning, but there is a nihilistic edge – and a sharp intelligence – that take her journey deeper into existential psychology than most portrayals of this age group. She has a kind of experimental approach to her existence which put me in mind of the narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s brilliant novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation, though I found Meggie more sympathetic and easier to identify with.

The relationship between Meggie and Sabine is so deliciously complicated. It is sexual, and sexy for that matter, but there is so much more to it than that. The way that Meggie fixates on Sabine, takes on her gestures and habits, longs to be her – I feel as if Ladner has really tapped into that early twenties out of control feeling, that search for something out of reach that often leads us to latch onto friends and members of our social group. As well as recognising the impulse, I was shocked and surprised by how far the notion is pushed. This is a fantastic portrayal of obsession, nuanced and gripping and completely all-consuming for the reader.

The other members of the nightshift crew round out the cast of characters beautifully. Earl, Prawn, Lizard, Sherry – it throws you back to those times when your coworkers became your friends, your family even, in some ways. I lived abroad in my early twenties, and that sense of creating your own family substitute, a group you saw day after day (and night after night) came flooding back to me as I read this book (as did the epic all-nighters, but my Dad sometimes reads my posts, so I’ll keep quiet about that).

The whole mood of Nightshift is so cleverly allied to Meggie’s sleep-deprived, fuzzy, substance-fuelled state. There is that feeling of unreality you get from nocturnal adventures, the sense that out of sight of the bright light of day, anything is possible, good and bad. The novel did loosen its grip on me slightly towards the end, but the whole experience of reading it was so thrilling and visceral, it was like being submerged in another consciousness. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to be thrown into the murky, half-lit world of London by night, with two fascinatingly complex characters as your reckless guides.

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner is published by Picador and is out on 18th February. It is available to purchase here.

3 thoughts on “Review: Nightshift by Kiare Ladner (2021)

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