Although Kamila Shamsie's most recent novel is a retelling of a Greek myth, the contemporary style and setting makes it accessible, not to mention incredibly relevant to current world events and ongoing political issues.
Based on the story of Antigone, Home Fire is about a British Muslim family, torn apart by ideologies and the struggle to find their place in Western society, overshadowed by the knowledge of a father who was a terrorist, and, now, the disappearance of a brother. Isma, as the eldest, is forced to raise her younger twin siblings, and it is only now she is able to break free and pursue her own academic dreams in the US, however, when she meets the son of British Home Secretary Karamat Lone, both families are drawn in to a saga of epic proportions.
For such a short book, it is incredible how well it covers the nuance and complexities of being Muslim in modern day Britain - from the seemingly contradictory approaches to sexuality and appearance in the hijab-wearing Pasha sisters, to the hardline immigration stance of a Muslim Home Secretary. Shamsie doesn't shy away from exploring any aspect of these characters' politics and identities - with every character as well-rounded, and complex, directly challenging the flat stereotypes which are so frequently perpetuated in Western culture.
Shamsie's style is slightly surreal and abstract, allowing the reader to view events very literally through the eyes of the characters, and her writing is simultaneously accessible and utterly exquisite. She weaves technology, from texts to tweets, seamlessly into the narrative.
Even if you aren't aware of the classical influences of the story, the book is highly readable and engaging in its own right, with a story which is intensely emotive and will leave you confused and conflicted, as only the best books do.
- Image, shelf of the Women's Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist, courtesy of the Savidge Reads.
- This review was first published on 13th September 2017 for the Man Booker Prize longlist.