The Giant Dark by Sarvat Hasin

The Giant Dark begins with the particular obsession of devoted music fans. We all know the type. They’re the people who form #freebritney, who feel a personal connection to a world-wide name, who truly are die-hard fans.

The theme of obsession runs deeper of course. Aida, the famous singer and musician, is also obsessed; obsessed with an ex-boyfriend, Ehsan, who provides all the inspiration for her music. And Ehsan too, it seems, is obsessed, but we’re never quite sure what with.

Years after breaking up, these two are brought together at a mutual friend’s dinner party and something new begins.

Just when you think you are getting a handle on this book, it twists into new territory. Neither Aida nor Ehsan feel that they fit in. Ehsan is Pakistani living in London and pursuing poetry and publishing against his father’s wishes. Aida is American, though of North Indian heritage, pushed by her mother into singing lessons and hard-work when her friends are out socialising and dating. Neither seems to feel comfortable in their lives. Both have formidable talent. Aida blooms into a rock star. Ehsan becomes an award winning poet.

You should hear the echoes with Eurydice and Orpheus here – the music fans playing the role of the Green chorus. But what is the giant dark that draws Eurydice in? Is it melancholia, madness, death? Can Orpheus/Aida pull Eurydice/Ehsan out? As a constant replaying of the past toys with their connection in the present we begin to wonder if they really can make a fresh start. Is the role of muse an easy one to take on? How does fame alter a person? And then, suddenly, a vampire appears, albeit possibly only as a mental projection. That obsession theme once again rears its head, muddling desire, mental illness and death into a gothic mix that makes both of these characters struggle with anything most people consider normal.

It would be great for fans of Sally Rooney’s Normal Life with a little something different and unexpected. Through playful structure and precise character expression, nothing is given away too easily by Sarvat Hasin (there are lots of things I haven’t mentioned to avoid spoilers), making the reader work a little, compelling them to read on. It’s an impressive debut.

I’ll be reviewing The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman next.