Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh

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Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Kavanagh's debut novel will divide people. The writing is brilliant, but the plot is a little less convincing - and we won't even start on the ending! An author to watch.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: May 2015
Publisher: Canongate
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1782115946

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Shortlisted: Costa First Novel Award 2015

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016

Yasmin is fifteen and seriously overweight - her capacity for consuming food will amaze and sicken. She's bullied at school and even her own mother finds her just a little bit weird: let's not go into what her stepfather thinks about her. Her father died a while ago, but Yasmin has never really come to terms with his death and still has the feeling that everything would be OK if only Terry was still around. There's a girl in Yasmin's class called Alice and Yasmin is so in awe of her that she stalks her. One day, in the school playground, she spots a man watching Alice as carefully as she does and becomes obsessed by the idea that the man is going to abduct Alice.

I'm very much in two minds about this book. The portrait of Yasmin is exquisite. Tasha Kavanagh captures her perfectly and produces a complex character, who lies easily, makes ready excuses for her behaviour, even to herself and whose weight (about fifteen stone and rising) is completely out of control. But you have sympathy for her too: her mother is of little help, giving her Maltesers as a treat on the basis that they're very light and one treat won't hurt. There's love there but little in the way of positive support. Yasmin has no friends - in fact her classmates almost vie with each other as to who can be the most cruel. One day someone calls her name and she almost doesn't respond, being far more used to more insulting names being used casually. Yasmin is deeply unsettling, but you can't help wishing that things could work out well for her.

On the other hand I'm not convinced by the plot and the idea that Yasmin who has little to do with anyone if she can avoid it would work hard to become friends with a man she believes to be a child abductor and murderer. I find it hard to accept that someone who lives in a fantasy world, as Yasmin does for most of the time, would take what she obviously sees as a risk (she's obviously aware of the risks of being too close to someone who might be a murderer), particularly when that person is considerably older than she is. In every other relationship Yasmin makes it difficult for people to get close to her, so why would she reach out in this one instance? But - suspend disbelief and it's a good story.

The ending will divide people. No - I'm not going to tell you: you'll have to read the book for yourself. Some people will find it utterly depressing. Others will feel that Yasmin has got what she deserves - and I'm not even going to explain whether I mean that in a good or a bad sense.

Kavanagh's writing is impressive: her well-deserved place on the Costa shortlist confirms that and she'll definitely be someone to watch in the future.

I listened to an audio download narrated by Katy Sobey and it was first class. All the different voices were well distinguished and I was never in any doubt about who was speaking. Particularly impressive was the way that Yasmin's first-person narrative was distinguished from her speaking voice - a nice touch. Sobey also captures the teenage self pity in Yasmin's voice without allowing it to go over the edge into caricature. This is the point at which I usually thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag, but I bought the download and thought it money well spent.

Things We Have In Common is on one of the 2015 Costa shortlists. For more from that list and available in audio we can recommend The Green Road by Anne Enright and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

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