by Nina de la Mer
Layla is working in London as a lap dancer to make enough money to turn her chaotic life around and give her back the only thing she really wants - her infant son, Connor. A teenage mother, she is deemed unfit by her own mother to look after her son. Layla’s history is tantalisingly glimpsed throughout the book but the full truth is not revealed until the end of the novel when she steps off the train at Brighton station with five thousand pounds in her rucksack.
LAYLA is written in the second person which is perfect for this self -searching novel in which the protagonist is standing back to examine the highs and lows of her life. She is ‘drop dead gorgeous’, plucky, feisty, kind and caring, but her problem is that she takes the blame for everything. Yes, she drinks (sometimes too much) and she takes drugs to dull the pain of her life, but deep down, Layla is just a troubled teenager with no one to turn to. She needs love and a cuddle, not sex.
De la Mer delves into the depths of Layla’s mind through her body: from her good looks, not always an asset; her bodily functions; her self-disgust; and her release through excessive drinking and occasional drugs. The whole self-analysis is conducted using graphic language and wonderful dialect but no matter how strong the language, Layla’s story never offends.
The book covers a week in Layla’s life with the chapters interrupted by her e-mails and missed calls. This is an effective device which adds to the literary strength of this innovative novel. At the end of the week Layla starts her new life by throwing her mobile phone from a taxi window. Poignantly, the e-mails still punctuate the final chapters: the last message reads, ‘VOICEMAIL: FULL, INBOX: FULL.’ Layla is alone, finally realising that she holds the future in her own hands.
LAYLA is a brilliant novel, gripping and engaging from the first page and cannot be praised too highly: talented writing; brilliant characterisation; a wonderful story of our time. This is a ‘must read’.
Published by Myriad – 269pp
Mardi Stewart - Guest reviewer
Read our interview with Nina de la Mer.