Review of Layla – by Nina De La Mer

I grabbed a copy of Layla having read De La Mer’s startling novel 4am and it did not disappoint. It had a hard act to follow so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The story follows a week in the life of “exotic dancer” Layla, a woman desperate to find a route in, out and back in again to a life she’s left behind. The reasons for which unfold with gentle persuasion right up to the end. It’s honest, harsh, gripping, funny and at times very tough to engage with the reality this young woman faces.

Within minutes I was drawn in, admittedly the narrative style (2nd person) took me around 10 pages to get used to-I realised I’d not experienced this mode of storytelling and it made the language, tale and journey far more compelling. The raw honesty and descriptions of Layla’s physical state, let alone the constant haze of inebriation forever lying under the surface makes for uncomfortable but vital reading. Very soon you want to save this young woman and are praying for her to save herself.

The setting is London mainly, with some dashings of Brighton thrown in and having lived in both locations the descriptions are both real as well as effecting. De La Mer has a significant talent when it comes to the language her characters use, they become whole and either beloved or detestable in moments; we get that first impression feeling with them all. This is what holds this tale in place, a believability and an unwavering commitment to bringing a humanity to Layla that remains throughout.

The descriptions of the life she lives, on the fringes of the sex trade, dabbling with heading deeper into this world misunderstood by many is sobering. It’s also full to bursting with reality; of the boredom, the discomfort, the competition but also the friendships and alliances made-women supporting women. The men in this novel are largely surplus – Layla will save herself, from the men intent on using her and those trying to tie her down. The club owners and the men who visit the club, those trying to coerce her into activities against her will are not sensationalised or demonised-these are real men, living real lives, exploiting women and the mundanity of it is chilling.

This is a 5 star novel, it will hold you-it will force you to finish it in a sitting and it will stay with you-Layla herself stays with you and that doesn’t often happen, only the best books do this.

A must read.

Published by Myriad Editions

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The Bumblebee

The bumblebee under the jar
Careering in every direction
To be free
Not seeing the cage
But knowing it
Feeling it
Each beat bringing
And when my screaming stopped
You lifted the lid
And I crawled out
My wings threadbare
My feelers numb
My sense of direction
With only you to guide me

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Come Join

Come join our band
Of merry men
They hollered
Tempting with piles
Of brittle bones
And golden eggs
From the geese
They’d slaughtered

Come join our chorus
Of merry souls
They crowed
We’ve silver bullets
And one trick ponies
We’ve the answers
To the questions
You always wanted to ask

Come learn our language
Of righteous anger
They spat
We’ve the puzzle plot
The skeleton keys
To all the doors
Of all the houses
To everywhere

And the promises
Tumbled and fell
And the geese died out
The ponies fled
The keys rusted
And the houses
Oh the houses

Stayed full to bursting
With the lost and lonely
And those fearful
Of a world outside
With windows barred
And steps too steep
The answers lost
To questions never asked

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Burnt Gold

I lay my hands on burnt gold
The heat sneaking through my fingers
I watch as your gold dust
Jumps in and out of time
Held in place by
The light bouncing
Off the tiniest slip of eye
Seen through resting lashes
I watch your rise and fall
And breathe you
To the bottom of lungs
Heavy with longing in their cavern
I map and plot every mark
And databank it
So I’ll know
And remember
And recall
When your heat has cooled
And your dust has settled

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The Unreal Narrative

Real women have curves
The woman without
Must be made of glass
Or petals
She floats away on her
Made up cloud

Real men don’t cry
The man sobbing
Must be a fountain
A statue in the park
He drowns
In his made up tears

Real women can keep a man
The woman and her cheating spouse
Must be a fairy tale
A story from another age
A fiction
At home holding the baby

Real men don’t hit women
The millions of women and their pain
Must be figments
Of over active imaginations
Because real men
Don’t hit women

There’s the real
And the others
The stories
And our lives
Lived in real time
Each and every one

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You Hand Me Butterflies

You hand me butterflies
You can’t count the number
A billion
All clambering
To be inside me
Fighting their way
Through the treacle
That you’ve made of me
Their wings
A constant beat
They hear your voice
From inside my chest
And they’re dancing to you
They read your words
From behind my eyes
And they’re flying to you
They beat so hard
And so fast
That I’m flying with them
Up and over
Across a sky
I’ve never seen before

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I Don’t Know How She Does It

I don’t know how she does it
The carrying on
The burying deep
The holding together

With each day a battle
To deal with the big
And the little
While pain carries her

I don’t know how she does it
The love she can still give
The care she can still dole out
When stripped of all

With each night a fear
Of the big
And the little
The terror of with and without

I don’t know how he did it
To take and steal
To burrow into a heart
And never let it go

With each day an excuse
She was needy
So emotional
She riled me up

I don’t know how he did it
To hurt while calm
To terrorise with abandon
To destroy hope

With each night
A warm bed
A sleep so deep
A night undisturbed

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