‘What?’ ‘But’ ‘Wait’ ‘Huh?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’ These are but some of the exclamations I uttered when reading this book. The Night Brother publishes on the first of June this year and based on it’s quite…unusual cover I probably should have guessed I was in for something equally unusual.
Rich are the delights of late nineteenth-century Manchester for young siblings Edie and Gnome. They bicker, banter, shout and scream their way through the city’s streets, embracing its charms and dangers. But as the pair mature, it is Gnome who revels in the night-time, while Edie is confined to the day. She wakes exhausted each morning, unable to quell a sickening sense of unease, and confused at living a half-life.
Reaching the cusp of adulthood, Edie’s confusion turns to resentment and she is determined to distance herself from Gnome once and for all. But can she ever be free from someone who knows her better than she knows herself?
Exploring the furthest limits of sexual and gender fluidity, this is a story about the vital importance of being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. After all, no-one likes to be kept in the dark.
What I want to stress so utterly and completely is that I do not think that this book is weird because it discusses Gender fluidity. Nothing wrong with that at all in my book, in fact I encourage it, more representation of people outside the gender binary please authors. But this book did a whole lot of equating gender with genitalia which felt counterintuitive (in my opinion). I know this book isn’t about a gender fluid main character, it is two characters inhabiting one body. But then don’t suggest this is the ‘furthest limits of sexual and gender fluidity’ because this doesn’t really scratch the surface.
I feel like this book heard that we want better representation of LGBTIAQ+ characters but also wanted to write a fantasy novel and couldn’t quite make the two mesh together. Calling the character ‘cursed’ because she shares a body with her brother is perhaps a realistic interpretation of how some people may perceive gender but it’s not how to go about making these people for whom this is a reality seem real and valued as individuals.
But I’m a cisgender woman and it is not my place to say what is right in these instances. I am willing to be called out if I’ve got this wrong and I don’t want to speak over people who may have a better perspective on these issues than I do. All I will say is that this felt off for me.
Which is a shame, because I quite enjoyed Rosie Garland’s writing style. I found it to be an engaging read even if I didn’t agree with everything that was going on. In fact, when I was trying to explain the plot to a friend she was totally intrigued by quite how odd the whole thing sounded. Maybe that’s the problem. It felt a bit like someone in publishing had said ‘well gender is a hot topic right now, also fantasy so let’s sell some books by hanging them on that hook’ which is just not how you do it!
My last thought before I descend back into complete befuddlement at this book: there are a bucket load of content notes you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about reading this or recommending it to others. Not only is there the general theme, but also there are mentions of FGM and there’s a bit of what I would deem ‘as close to sexual assault as you can get without it being that’. None of which I was anticipating so please if you’re reading this book consider yourself warned.
I have a feeling that this is the kind of book that will either spark a lot of conversations and become very overhyped or it will just slip quietly into obscurity. I’m kind of hoping it does the latter, as I’m not sure I want to be a part of the conversations this book might spark…having said that, is all talk good talk?
My rating: 3/5 stars, interesting…but I wouldn’t read it again.
By the way, I received a digital advanced review copy of this from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own!
Any thoughts? Ideas? Help in understanding why this came to be? Let me know on twitter (@judithcmoore) or in the comments below.