book review

Luster by Raven Leilani

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Luster: Leilani, Raven: 9781529035988: Books

Luster is a sharp novel that follows Edie, a young black women, who starts a relationship with an older, white, married man. This is what I would call (and have seen described as) a millennial novel – it’s about a woman who makes pretty disastrous decisions and it’s written in a similar sharp, detached, wry narrative voice as other books I would class a millennial novels.

For me, though, the sense of detachment from the main character is a problem. I felt a similar thing in Exciting Times, when I was watching the main character making bad decisions. I like unlikeable, flawed characters but I have to understand them and why they made the decisions that they did. And I’m not sure I can say that I understand Edie in Luster, the same way I’m not sure I understood Ava in Exciting Times.

I do think part of it is that Edie doesn’t understand what she wants, or how to get what she wants, and she’s definitely struggling with a sense of ennui throughout the novel. But she has no fight and just lets a lot of things happen to her – for me, I just really struggled to connect with her.

There were plenty of things I did like about this book: there’s no doubt that Leilani is an excellent writer, and I loved her style. She creates a beautifully uncomfortable atmosphere, and it makes you not want to look away – you need to read to see what is going to happen next. I loved Edie’s relationship with Akila. I thought there was a lot of potential in Edie’s relationship with Rebecca. Don’t get me started on Eric, who is truly, truly unlikeable in all ways.

Overall, I’m not sure how much I can say I enjoyed this novel. At times, Leilani’s writing truly sung, but overall the novel felt mostly purposeless, and very morose and bleak. I’ve seen the writing style described as humorous, but I would say that only applies to the first chapter or so. This book wasn’t for me, but I would say that doesn’t mean it’s not for you! If you loved Exciting Times or Such a Fun Age, I can see you getting more out of this book than me.

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