Sun, 16 June 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
By Lord Cameron of Dillington
By Lord Wood
Press releases

Rupa Huq reviews two ‘coming of age’ tales

3 min read

Though differing in length, subject and style, Mona Arshi and Lea Ypi’s critically acclaimed and vividly written books are both highly recommended reads

On the face of it, this pair of books share various points of commonality. They’re both coming of age tales told in the first person by girls on the edge of adolescence trying to make sense of a changing world in which they find the rules they must abide by puzzling and nonsensical. I was drawn to them as both authors are my constituents and are firsts of a type.

Lea Ypi is an LSE politics professor who, when trying to write a book on socialism, found herself wanting to get the story out of her own ringside seat witnessing the collapse of statism and transition to multi-party politics in Albania as a be-satchelled schoolgirl transforming into a woman. Mona Arshi meanwhile was a high-powered human rights lawyer before reinventing herself as a poet, and has now turned her hand to a debut novel. In her book Somebody Loves You, second generation British Indian Ruby has outspoken views about her west London suburban existence with mum, dad, sister, garden and sometimes grandma and assorted acquaintances – all the more ironic as she one day decides to be wilfully mute.

Stylistically however the two are chalk and cheese. Ypi’s narrative has specifics: the Coca Cola can of the cover that was a domestic status symbol serving a vase function – an act of rebellion when everyone else expected to display portraits bigwigs of “the Party” (a constant) in their homes. It has dates and even a diary section with events organised chronologically, and is organised into two parts: pre- and post-1990.

Stylistically however the two are chalk and cheese

Arshi recounts a succession of memories, a mixture of real events and Ruby’s dreams which are increasingly surreal, even trippy, befitting the part-pastoral cod-psychedelic jacket design. The chapters are short and punchy with names not numbers befitting the way the story, not altogether told in a linear fashion, meanders – sometimes taking quite dark turns. It seems to be not contemporary, at least there are no references to characters on mobiles which, as a mum of teenage offspring, I know are are central to today’s young lives. Ypi’s work is grounded, Arshi’s more timeless. 

Dysfunctional families and the way that secrets – be they personal (eg Ruby’s mum’s worsening depression) or more political (Lea’s parents’ euphemistic way of referring to dissidents who are disappeared/ imprisoned) – are covered up so as to not offend the young ladies/kids are a background presence of both. In both cases the narrator is much more all-knowing than the grown-ups imagine, and growing pains are vividly described. The end of innocence seems to be a running theme: we start with dolls, teachers, and other kids from the block, but progress into all-night parties, boys taking advantage and drink and drugs. The two clans are intergenerational with grandmotherly wisdom and compassion dispatched to the two rebel daughters. Perceptions of safety manifesting in the carrying of knives and guns plus death also lurks in the contents of the two.

They may look very different: a slim paperback of a 162-page work of fiction (Arshi) and a chunky hardback with almost double the number of pages, which could equally be filed under modern history/current events, but the two are both critically acclaimed, warmly written and warmly recommended by me.

Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton – Mona Arshi and Lea Ypi are both constituents

Somebody Loves You
Written by: Mona Arshi
Publisher: And Other Stories

Free: Coming of Age at the End of History 
Written by: Lea Ypi
Publisher: Allen Lane

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.


Books & culture