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For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition.

I was kindly sent this book as a giveaway prize by the lovely Rosie Talbot – Instagram @merrowchild – which I finished reading last month. I had very mixed feelings whilst reading Home Fire, but after having taken time to reflect upon it I can see why it has received so many outstanding reviews; it’s also a very deserving winner of this years Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The story follows a British Muslim family of siblings who have been struck by tragedy, in the sense of losing their mother and grandmother at young ages whilst also dealing with the looming legacy of their absent jihadi father.

Whilst I am a huge fan of novels which stray from the typical Bildungsroman structure, the switches between narrative in this book did not feel quite right. Through research around the book I have since discovered that the authors intention for the novel was a contemporary re imagining of Antigone, a Greek tragedy which consisted of five acts (akin to the five narratives).  Whilst I am not overly familiar with the tale I understand this echo in structure, and its importance in gaining a wider insight to the story.

I was however left disappointed each time the narrative perception shifted, I needed more access to each character’s thoughts. I felt that Isma in particular had more to offer, or could have been revisited as a character of importance. Perhaps that feeling speaks volumes for the intrigue that the novel held over me.

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The inclusion of difficult subject matter – such as ISIS recruitment tactics towards young Muslims living in Western societies, as well as the effects of terrorism upon the families of jihadists left behind – makes this novel a pivotal read for modern times.

These are topics relating to headlines which are rarely out of the news,  often making it difficult for many to process and humanize amidst all of the politics and fear mongering

Contempt, disdain, scorn: these emotions were stops along a closed loop that originated and terminated in a sense of superiority.

Other reviews that I have encountered have criticised the novel for its ‘slow’ beginning. Personally I found those opening scenes of Isma’s interrogation to be the first thing which opened my eyes to this novels contemporary value. In other words, it got me thinking and drew me in.

It’s unsettling to consider that ordinary people face the concern of being unable to board a flight without intense scrutiny or interrogation, or having to carefully consider each and every internet search, as though that simple act in itself is a cross-examination of one’s character. It’s a hard realisation, but one that this novel is striving to make people aware of.

The story continually gathers pace throughout, its intensity somewhat striking by the end. It’s certainly difficult to put down, making it one of those novels that you could easily find yourself glued to the chair all night with, unaware of the early morning light seeping through the curtains.

I would recommend it to anyone as a quick and easy read with a strong impact. Home Fire does not require any overly pedantic analysis, it is bold and to the point with its purpose and has an extremely tragic tale at its roots.

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Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus: London, 2017).

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