Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam: An unsettling and brilliant debut

Reading in the garden after the two or three washouts which passed as summers over the last couple of years feels like being on holiday. It’s not just the glorious sunshine it’s the absence of distraction allowing you to immerse yourself in whatever you’re reading. I’ve just finished Bonnie Nadzam’s Lamb, much of it read outside undisturbed under the parasol, and all the better for that, I think. Longlisted for this year’s Orange, oops – sorry, Women’s Prize for Literature, it’s an astonishingly confident debut, both deeply unsettling and beautifully expressed.

Two giggling friends dare Tommie, a little outside their orbit and there to be teased, to approach Lamb and ask him for a cigarette. Her advance sparks a connection which takes Lamb and Tommie on a road trip across the States to the cabin Lamb’s father has recently left him. Lamb seductively spins tales for Tommie and himself, sensing her insecurities and making her feel special. Little bombshells are almost casually dropped – we learn that David is fifty-four and Tommie is eleven – but this is far from a straightforward story of child abduction. Nadzam spins her tale as seductively as Lamb spins his, prompting us to imagine how Lamb and Tommie’s lives might have been and the ways in which events might turn out while describing the landscape they pass through in gorgeous, dreamlike prose. It’s a short novel, easily read in an afternoon but best lingered over rather than rushed through. It will stay with me for some time.

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