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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