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.
Ruby gives up talking at a young age. Her mother isn’t always there to notice; she comes and goes and goes and comes, until, one day, she doesn’t. Silence becomes Ruby’s refuge, sheltering her from the weather of her mother’s mental illness and a pressurized suburban atmosphere.
Plangent, deft, and sparkling with wry humour, Somebody Loves You is a moving exploration of how we choose or refuse to tell the stories that shape us.
Huge thanks to And Other Stories for providing me with a proof copy in exchange for an honest review.
There have been three books I’ve read this year which have, for me, wonderfully shattered my expectations of what a novel “should” be, which have blown the possibilities wide open through their sheer dazzling inventiveness and bravery and utter refusal to confine themselves to conventional boundaries. The first is Assembly by Natasha Brown, the second, Salena Godden’s stunning Mrs Death Misses Death. And the third is Mona Arshi’s incredibly powerful debut novel.
Somebody Loves You is, on the surface, deceptively simple: Ruby, a young girl who has given up speech and exists in a quiet world of her own making, shuffles through childhood memories, making beautiful vignettes of piecemeal moments – chapters are often only a page or two long, and the scenes jump back and forth through time. In some ways, this is an intimate story of a family and its struggles, and the relationship between Ruby and her sister is particularly poignantly depicted.
However, like Natasha Brown’s novel, this book is no simple domestic drama. The forces that press down on Ruby and her family are elemental in scope, and there are moments where the universe seems to crack and split and everything at once pours out. The shadows of racism, of mental illness, of suppressed trauma, thicken and swirl around the edges of the story, and it is an immensely powerful piece of work. But there is also quiet beauty, lines of poetic prose which delicately enter the veins, so subtle and true and precise that even though the book is short, I spent a long time on each section, immersing myself in the words.
This is a book that throbs and hums with the power of language. The fact that Ruby, who does not speak, is the one to lead us through it, left me with a really strong sense of both sadness (the ones whose voices are most worth listening to are so often the ones who are unheard) and also hope: powerful words don’t have to be loud and brash, they can be quiet and beautiful and all the more meaningful for that. I can guarantee I will be rereading this book, as I feel I have barely scratched the surface, and that it will have something more to offer on each reading. I can’t recommend it enough.
Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi is published by And Other Stories and is available to purchase here.