Blurb from Goodreads
An intensely powerful new novel from the best-selling author of The Bastard of Istanbul and Honour
‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
This book has such moments of pure genius and honesty, and at times my heart felt so unbelievably full… However it also descended into somewhat of a farcical comedy during the course of Part Two so my feelings are very mixed.
The premise is utterly fascinating and is based on observations from a research paper published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences (link here) that found an instance of brain wave activity in a person declared clinically dead for 10 minutes 38 seconds post-death.
The novel takes this idea and uses these ten minutes and thirty eight seconds to explore the life of murder victim Tequila Leila in Part One, The Mind, as she experiences flashbacks of sort as her mind ultimately closes down after her untimely death.
Part One, The Mind, contained my favourite moments of the novel. We got to really get to know Leila. To understand her life’s journey. To follow her childhood through to her escape to Istanbul where she ended up working in a brothel. This section explored the concept of blood family versus found family as we met each of Leila’s five closest friends in turn and learned how much of an impact she had on their lives and vice versa. And also this section to me really discussed death in the most beautiful and natural of fashions. There was nothing to fear. Nothing was over played. I found it incredibly moving. I also loved how real historical events were incorporated into the storyline. How the book gave a real insight into what life was like in Istanbul especially during the 1960s and ’70s.
This whole section was just beautifully written and I was incredibly invested in the storyline.
But once the book moved onto Part Two, The Body, the narrative shifted to a much more frivolous style of writing. The book turned to the absurd and the poignancy of Leila’s death and life were lost to an almost slapstick comedy of errors as her five friends got caught up in a preposterous nighttime adventure as they endeavoured to bury her body.
This whole section just jarred so much with me that it nearly ruined the novel. It’s why I’m rating this book three stars and not four. Because where I was once moved by Leila and her story, I now found myself rolling my eyes at her five friends. And I think that along with the farcical burial plot line this was also largely in part due to the poor characterisations of Leila’s five besties. Instead of feeling truly authentic they all felt like caricatures or almost stereotype composites of the types of characters that would be #SquadGoals for a woman of little social standing.
What I am pleased about is that the story never attempted to solve Leila’s murder, there was no talk of justice etc. Instead the focus was primarily on the tragedy of Leila’s life and really highlighted social injustices that were prevalent during the setting of this book.
The book thankfully ended with a short Part Three that took the focus away from Leila’s friends and instead centred on Leila and her soul but unfortunately even this touching ending couldn’t salvage the book for me and ultimately it’s an ambivalent three star rating that I am giving. A book that promised so much but sadly I feel somewhat shortchanged upon finishing it.