REVIEW: Luster by Raven Leilani

In brief: Edie’s life is a mess of wrong choices. When she meets Eric, it’s meant to be nothing but a hook-up but somehow she gets entangled with his whole family

The good: It’s warts and all, no pretty Instagram filters here.

The not-so-good: Sometimes the reader feels far removed from Edie and the action.

Why I chose it: A lot of good reviews for this book.

Year: 2020

Pages: 227

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: New York and New Jersey

Rating: 8 out of 10

Luster was a book that was much-hyped before Christmas, but I had to wait until for Christmas book vouchers before I could get my hands on this book. (Oh, and that it seems to take double the time for things to be available to buy over here). Anyway, that doesn’t matter. I have the book and now I’ve read it. Looking at the back blurbs now, I can’t say that I really agree that the book is hilarious or darkly funny. For me, it was lonely and sad, with more than a few ‘what the…?’ moments at the choices of the characters. It’s engrossing and dark, with mixed up emotions that you can’t tear yourself away from.

Edie is a 23-year-old Black woman living in New York, struggling with…well, everything. Her shared apartment has more creatures than humans, her job is hanging by and thread and she doesn’t really know what she wants – but it’s not this. She wanted to be a painter, but never got there and now her only joy is dried up in the corner. Edie’s life hasn’t been easy and she lacks direction. Hers is not a happy life with a lack of friendships, punctuated by hook-ups with colleagues and people on dating apps. Eric was meant to be one of those hook-ups, but it turns into a sort-of awkward relationship. He’s middle aged and has another ‘sort-of’ relationship – an open marriage. Edie didn’t really plan it, but she becomes involved with Eric’s wife and adopted daughter to the point of living with them. It’s another awkward relationship, punctuated by sweet moments and odd ones. Sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason for Edie doing things – like randomly applying a fentanyl patch that doesn’t belong to her or snooping through things. It’s just something she does when she’s at a loss.

It was difficult at times to like Edie. On one hand, she’s bluntly honest about her faults and the things she does wrong. On the other, she feels really distant from the reader like there is a glass screen between her and the story. Perhaps it was the style of writing, which is short and sharp without excessive frills. It was hard to gauge at times what Edie was feeling but maybe that was because she didn’t know herself. Edie’s character is adrift with nobody to show her the way, not even Eric. The only characters that come close are Rebecca and Akila, Eric’s wife and daughter, who should be the most ‘against’ Edie for having a relationship with Eric. Perhaps it’s because they too are adrift, but unlike Edie have found ways in which they can centre themselves. With Rebecca, it’s work and Akila has her fandoms. It’s interesting that Edie only starts to paint seriously again once she moves in with the family.

Luster is not a happy book, but it is insightful into the effects of loneliness with a stream of consciousness style narrative that pulls no punches.

One thought on “REVIEW: Luster by Raven Leilani

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  1. The delay in book deliveries has been the bane of my life this past year. Thanks to Covid, all books from overseas are coming in via boat, not air freight. So unless there is local stock in a publisher’s warehouse, we just have to wait – it can be up to 12 weeks in some cases! Even the big online conglomerates have had the same issue.

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