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SHORTLISTED FOR AMAZON'S RISING STARS
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ANOBII FIRST BOOK AWARD
GUARDIAN BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2012
FOYLES BEST FICTION OF 2012
Set in present-day London, Genie and Paul, a superb first novel...contemporarises with brilliant effect the 18th-century French classic Paul et Virginie.
Genie and Paul is an utterly original love story: the story of a sister’s love for a lost brother, and the story of his love for an island that has never really existed.
One morning in May 2003, on the cyclone-ravaged island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, the body of a man washes up on the beach.
Six weeks previously, the night Tropical Cyclone Kalunde first gathered force, destruction of another kind hit twenty-six-year-old Genie Lallan and her life in London: after a night out with her brother she wakes up in hospital to discover that he’s disappeared. Where has Paul gone and why did he abandon her at the club where she collapsed? Genie’s search for him leads her to Rodrigues, sister island to Mauritius – their island of origin, and for Paul, the only place he has ever felt at home. Will Genie track Paul down? And what will she find if she does?
A treasure of a book – a novel of ideas that is also sensual, thrillingly alive. It is confident and smart, and emotionally resonant. Soobramanien’s themes are questions of exile and place, and her writing makes them seem as though we are confronting them anew. That too is so very exciting.
Genie and Paul is quite simply a stunning novel. It exudes the sort of originality that should, if there is any justice in the world, augur a long and honorable career.
A vivid account of exile and expatriation...when it comes to mood and melancholy, Soobramanien's grasp is unerring. Skipping lightly from present to past, through intensely felt childhood fears and family histories, the book builds a rich, redolent landscape of dream and memory through which these isolated figures drift, seeking something that probably never existed to begin with: an island, a brother, a sense of belonging. For a debut novel, Genie and Paul is nothing short of remarkable.
This beguiling first novel is a rich, warm, modern reworking of Paul et Virginie...The author beautifully captures the fairytale atmosphere of the original.
Soobramanien's poised, resonant tale of innocence and experience is strikingly original. A gifted painter of place and mood, she is as good on East End council flats (‘reeking of Glade and psychosis’) as the stray dogs and fruit-laden trees of Mauritius. Soobramanien subtly explores ideas of home in a way that marks her out as a rare talent.
Polyphonic and intricately patterned, Genie and Paul ranges over thirty years and brings together the stories of the Mauritians who stayed on the island and the stories of those who left it behind. Soobramanien observes Mauritius and London with equal attention, and her descriptions of the latter as it appears to those encountering it for the first time are funny and sharp...Holding in tension Mauritius and London, a search for a person and a search for a place, Natasha Soobramanien's debut is both a bold interpretation of a French classic and a subtle meditation on the compulsion to keep looking, even when we know that what we are looking for no longer exists, and perhaps never existed at all.
Superb...Each protagonist’s story is told in turn, and their voices deftly differentiated: Genie imagines London’s skyscrapers as 'crystalline stalagmites in Superman’s secret cave', whereas Paul sees only the city’s 'dull glint, like the sheen on old meat'. When brother and sister are brought together again at the book’s climax, we come to realise that their perspectives are tragically irreconcilable.
Genie and Paul is the gripping story of her search for him, layered with richly described memories of the island of their birth, Mauritius, and London, their new home.
An exceptional debut novel. Soobramanien proves her emotional intelligence in her real understanding of what it means to grow up in a country not one’s own. Her prose is vivid, clever and effective. She draws on ancient myths and legends and brings them onto a contemporary stage with quick freshness and originality. [Her] writing skills are startling and indisputable.
The sense of belonging and the struggle to find it is realised sensitively by Soobramanien. The reader is aware of sad, serious and sinister events almost from the outset of the novel, but these events only gradually reveal themselves. Her character descriptions are perceptive and have been rather originally shaped.
Genie and Paul is a novel of breathtaking scope and heart-breaking beauty as it explores the meaning of identity and what it feels like to have no sense of your place in the world. Soobramanien’s prose is a delight to the senses. She paints vivid scenes in the imagination with a sensitive and intelligent hand, evoking the sights, sounds and scents of both London and Mauritius. With each turn of the page I sank deeper into the text, soaked in warm waves of hope or the darkness of despair, before floating to the surface in tears at the end.
A stunning debut novel, lyrical and touching, that explores the bonds of family and what it means to call a place home.
Explores the pains and longings of an intense sibling relationship through a reworking of the eighteenth-century classic of doomed love, Paul et Virginie. Some of the writing is excellent, and Soobramanien reproduces textures particularly well. The episode when Genie takes drugs in a nightclub and wakes up in hospital, having almost died, is highly effective.
Soobramanien's beautiful, lovingly written first novel tells the story of a sister's love for her brother, of how far it carries her in her quest to find him, and finally of its limits. At the same time, it is a portrait of a young man's struggle to discover an identity, and of his yearning for a remembered childhood place which may or may not exist in reality. Soobramanien's greatest achievement with Genie and Paul may lie in its expression of the lost time between childhood and adulthood. The novel feels sparse, almost unaccountably sad, the space in between the lines of narrative being a silent, eloquent representation of the lost hours of youth.
A fresh, original story of love, of shared memories and places that always feel like home to us. The sense and evocation of place is key, and Soobramanien writes with great insight as to how our bonds with those we are closest to shape our lives.
Dreamy and still, yet passionately evocative, an insight into the outer world of the immigrant and more importantly the inner life of the mind, Genie and Paul is a beautiful read, and augers well for Soobraminen’s future.
This is a unique book, and one I quickly came to love. Soobramanien is a fantastic talent and I loved the simplicity of both her prose and the messages at the heart of this book...Easy to read with beautiful turns of phrase, I know this book will stay with me for some time.
Soobramanien vividly describes the forced deportation of people from the Chagos Islands, made homeless in the early 1970s to make room for a US military base... [she] makes increasingly clear as the book goes on, not just nostalgic literary tropes but real violations inflicted on real people...[and] deftly describes the experience of returning to a long-lost 'home' only to find that one is not fully recognised by those who never left.
The author does something quite remarkable: she subverts part of the literary canon. Swallows it; allows it to be partially digested; regurgitates it. Spits out what remains to reveal something far less pious and sickly sentimental [than Paul et Virginie], something far more beautiful.
A just, yet unblinkered view, of Mauritius and its even more remote poorer satellite Rodrigues, is contrasted with a colorful, musical rich, depiction of London, as Soobramanien’s controlled prose describes the hardships and travails of a family marooned. Poised and meticulously written, there’s hardly a word out of place let alone wasted sentence, each line justified in this lean but expansive novel.
Read Natsha's insightful interview with London bookseller Foyles.
Listen to Natasha's interview for the Book Talk programme, recorded at Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Read more about the themes and influnces on Genie and Paul in this online interview.
Read Natasha's short story 'If Not, Not' on The White Review website.