Fear and Loathing in London
This is part of a #FridayFlashback series of rereleased essays. This week's is a short review of a great book, Cyan Night's Girl, Fighter. It was first published Nov 12 2017.
Girl, Fighter by Cyan Night is a coming of age story about Aliyah, an Australian expat residing and working in London from a mixed Kazakh-Chinese background. It is well paced and gripping, as the hero is soon led by her character and circumstances into a series of calamities almost reminiscent of a Hellenist tragedy. It is in this tension between character and social context that the novel finds its pathos; in an honest examination of one person’s complex situation in its historical nuance, which simultaneously highlights its hero's agency. The novel is structured into two parts, the first (narrated in a detached third person ) sets up the ascent necessary for the eventual fall of the second, which is made all the more intimate by its adoption of the first person.
We witness Aliyah adapt to London life by taking up biking and Mixed Martial Arts, tentatively providing her with something beyond a lucrative but socially isolating career in computer programming. Thereby, Night evokes a set of different, neatly compartmentalised worlds that Aliyah struggles to maintain in an awkward balance, exploring the pressures of harassment at work, the trials of the sport Aliyah uses as an escape and the protagonist’s efforts to find a meaningful bond and anchor in all the chaos.
In the cataclysmic moment of the novel, the boundaries between these domains are blurred and the experience of a loss of control—induced, in part, by brain injury—is conveyed with shocking fidelity. The novel throws a few twists and evokes moments of heightened stakes with a prose that evokes an apt and desperate loss of control.
The depth of research is as impressive as the novel's immersive setting; Girl, Fighter covers an extensive range of subject matter from psychology and neurobiology to MMA culture and the geography (even psychogeography) of London (it is very recognisably London). The confidence with which Night writes gives Aliyah's world the impression of being larger than merely her solitary narrative; hers is one atomised story among many. The supporting characters demonstrate enough complexity to be convincing as people with their stories to tell. It is an important feature for a novel about someone who experiences the world, often justly, as encroaching and threatening.
Night’s novel has recently been published in the form of an e-book and I would recommend it to everyone.
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