Cover Image: Luster


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One of the best books I read in 2020 - I love Raven Leilani's style of writing which is sharp and honest, and really captures a picture of flawed characters. An amazing read, dark, caustic and funny.
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Luster by Raven Leilani

The debut novel from Raven Leilani, Luster follows a young black women in her 20s who becomes involved with an older white man in his 40s.

It is an edgy and compulsive read that keeps you on the edge of being unsettled and off balance throughout. There were definitely moments where I was like "WHAAAAAT", and I entirely understand when other reviewers have said you'll want to laugh and cringe all at the same time.

Luster is part of the burgeoning new genre of "millenial lit" with its realism and troubled main female protagonist. I thought it was an ambitious and interesting novel as it touched on the realities of race, sexualisation, office politics, work success, poverty, addiction, marriage and motherhood.

I found the relationship between Eric's wife Rebecca and the main female protagonist to be the most compulsive sections of the book. Their relations didn't unfold in any way that I expected and often felt bizarre. There was a certain hollowness I also felt in these moments and it was very unsettling.

Luster is a very open-ended book and I have so many unanswered questions by the end. This definitely kept me hooked from start to end. I can see why the book is getting lots of hype for sure, it's probably not a book I'll return to but I think a really solid debut for sure.

Thanks to @netgalley and @picador for the e-copy (ad-pr product). Out today ✨
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Luster is a beautifully written, raw and at times uncomfortable read about Edie, a vivacious and bright woman in her twenties who is living in New York. She begins to date Eric, a middle-aged white man who is married but in an open relationship. What follows is a messy, challenging and often uncomfortable read about navigating relationships and life in general as a young black woman.

I have to say I found Edie a tricky character to warm to – she is by her nature quite stand-offish and reserved in some ways, and I wanted to shout at her that becoming so entangled with Eric and his family was not a good move! There were definitely parts that I didn’t like and it’s hard to convey why, but I think some of the novel I just found quite hard to read.

However, I found myself racing through this novel- it’s fairly short but regardless of the length, I still finished it in record time. The writing is not only beautiful but very readable (although some of the novel feels quite abstract, so I had to read some parts twice to make sure I’d read it correctly).

If you connect with Edie – or even if you don’t, as I didn’t hugely – this is a novel that’s easy to get completely sucked into.
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I adored Luster. It was fresh, relatable and very much of its time. Could. It recommend picking this one up enough!
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This debut has been receiving rave reviews, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. Leilani does have a way with words; a way that is brutally honest, raw and powerful in places, but in others just felt like shock value for the sake of it and left me a little cold.

This is the story of Edie, a young twenty-something black woman living in New York. Edie has a decent job at a publishing firm, but she doesn’t really care about it – art is her real passion. She has a reputation as the ‘office slut’ (her words, not mine) and moves from meaningless affair to meaningless affair, seemingly using sex to fill a void of loneliness. She definitely has some self-worth issues.

“I think to myself, you are a desirable woman. You are not a dozen gerbils in a skin casing.” (What, now?!)

And then she meets Eric online. Eric is older and married, but he explains his is an open marriage and the two build a connection online before meeting in real life.

For me, the story started off strong. Following Edie’s life and the tentative first date with Eric, there’s something quite honest and tender about the author’s depiction of the couple. They’re both putting up their own type of mask and choosing the parts of themselves they want to show, even though Eric tells her he wants her to be herself.

“I know he doesn’t mean it. He wants me to be myself like a leopard might be herself in a city zoo. Inert, waiting to be fed. Not out in the wild, with tendon in her teeth.”

But it does get pretty weird.

Some of the characters’ actions in this book felt frankly bizarre to me. I didn’t understand or like a lot of them. Eric’s wife, Rebecca, is a particular puzzle. On meeting Edie – who she knows is her husband’s mistress – she promptly invites her to their anniversary dinner party and follows up with an invitation to watch her cut a cadaver’s head open. Then, when Edie loses her job, Rebecca invites her to move in. Of course, why not? Basically, all of the characters are incredibly messed up and completely alone in their own way, even though they wind up living together under one roof.

The most likeable of this bunch is the youngest – Eric and Rebecca’s adopted daughter, Akila. A twelve-year-old black girl dropped into a well-to-do, suburban white neighbourhood, she’s grateful when Edie joins their household. As someone of the same race and closer in age, she feels connected to Edie and I enjoyed the dynamic of this pairing.

The author offers some frank insights on sex, relationships and race in this modern, though-provoking story. The writing has a kind of witty, dry humour, but there’s also a cold, detached feeling which meant I struggled to connect at times. Sometimes, it’s a little too edgy for me and, at others, I found myself a little bored. But, it’s a quick, witty, no-hold-barred read which manages to be eye-opening, without ever feeling too deep.
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I loved this novel. It was multi layered, shocking in parts and dark, but ultimately full of hope. Raven Leilani is a skillful writer, who is both brutal and funny, which is hard to pull off.  I know everyone is talking about it - they should be. I couldn't put it down.
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I was so excited to read this book - amazing coverage and press at the moment. The cover is also just stunning. 

This was an honest portrayal of a 23 year old black woman struggling to find her way in the world who ends up falling into a white couples open marriage, with their adoptive black daughter Akila. Raven Leilani's tone in this is sharp, precise and at some points witty. Our protagonist Edie is completely unafraid of showing us the messiness in her life, how out of control it's becoming and also the pain she experiences - coming from sexism, racism, poverty and family. 

I for one really liked the stream of consciousness style of writing, I think this suited our characters mindset and this link with her creative side. I also really liked how the theme of art flowed through the novel. Throughout, we are given descriptions of Edie's paintings and how she paints as a way to escape from her ever growing problems. Loved the ending surrounding this idea as well.  This is such an impressive debut and one that is definitely worth your time. Thanks so much for the ARC!
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Though its subject matter (young woman becomes live-in mistress) might be divisive, that Raven Leilani is one of the most striking voices in modern literature should be unarguable. Every sentence of 'Luster' is so finely crafted it's hard to believe this is a debut; Edie's casual but scalpel-sharp observations on racist, sexist and classist behaviour brought to mind the subversive wit of Vladimir Nabokov and Paul Beatty. I often had to pause my reading, either to laugh aloud or simply sit in wonder for a bit at the power of carefully-chosen words.
Though the no-punches-pulled style might come across as too brutal or emotionless to some readers, I thought it perfectly communicated Edie's dispossession. Young and Black, she is both visible and invisible; even in her role as mistress, she barely seems to make a dent in the affluent home she finds herself in, let alone wreck it. More than sex, more than provocation, 'Luster' is about loneliness, the hunger of its protagonist to be noticed and, even if consigned to mediocrity, to have someone care that she is there.
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Clearly well written but left me frustrated and disappointed for the characters. Edie is a young black woman struggling through life. She has a reputation as the office slut and seems to lack all ambition and self-respect. Her real love is painting but she isn't good enough to pursue it. So instead she hooks up with a white married man, Eric, and by a quirk of fate, ends up living with his wife and adopted black daughter in the suburbs. 

Its an oddball story that kept me turning the pages, wondering where it was going to lead. I found the different perspective and characters interesting, but was left feeling sad and despondent. I kept waiting for Edie to turn the corner, to find inspiration or be saved by someone more appropriate, but for me the story didn't lead anywhere.
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I thought this would be a book about youth, sex, race, art,  love and relationships — and it was certainly that and more — but it was also a book about precarity and class. The precariousness with which we have forced young people to live in: in this economy, in society, without a family, without a home. The writing is pin-sharp, full of witty observations that regularly made me laugh out loud or pause to consider. The characters all carefully drawn and rightfully complex as each other. The humour is tempered by tragedy, the exacting prose that dips into the backstory of its central character Edie, a young 20-something who barrels through the narrative, sometimes it seems against her own will. It has the contemporary, readable smart prose of other recent debuts from writers like Sally Rooney, Kiley Reid and Eliza Clark. A thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful read.
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A whirlwind of a book, full of the smallest details of life and how we spiral and try to stay afloat when everything is crashing down around us.
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Oh wow! this was amazing. Sat and read front to back in one sitting, I have never felt so tense or concerned for a character before. Reven's ability to build believable characters is actually awe-inspiring, I was so invested in them and their stories every step of the way.
This book is razor-sharp, provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now.
I can't wait to read more from Raven and will definitely be hand selling this all year!!
Thank you so much to Net Galley and Pan Mac for the ERC.
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Luster is about a young woman, making ends meet in a non descript office job and having a passive attitude with work and the men she sleeps with. After not having success with her artistic passion she is a woman who feels lost. She then meets Eric, a married man, but one who is in a relationship who is accepting of an open marrage. Edie soon become entwined in his familys life, including his teenage daughter. The book never pushed boundries as I had first imagined it would. It is a challenging, unacomdating read. I never felt the tenderness in any of the characters others suggest exisits. It felt like a book trying to create warmth and emotion through physical action but it just alienated me more. A book that pandered to the neverland generation, people who refuse to grow up, and this is somehow supposed to be desirable. The moments shared between the wife and other woman, were unimaginative and didn’t seem to have any spark for me.
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The characters in the story are all generally pretty unlikeable but that doesnt detract from the joy of reading it. I particularly loved the interactions between 23 year old Edie and Rebecca as their distrust builds to an uncertain friendship. 

For me, the book lost it's way a little at times and I found myself getting bored (gaming & comicon) but perhaps that's reflective of my 40+ years. 

I've seen so many reviews of this book that imply this is true to modern life and being a young women today, which frankly fills me with dread for my children.

I'm writing this review a few days after having finished the book and already find that I'm struggling to recall parts of it. An enjoyable read for me but perhaps didnt live up to the massive hype this one has recieved.
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This had the potential to be a good story, and the main character was interesting - (car crash interesting). But I could to get past the writing style - very long, rambling sentences full of cultural references that were incomprehensible to me, and lots of profanity and graphic sexual references. It was funny in parts, though, so an extra star for that.
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Thanks to NetGalley and The Publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Sorry it's a no from me. Don't believe the hype! I found much of the storyline equally cringy and far-fetched. Nothing was remotely relatable and the detached cold writing style left my unengaged and uninvested. 

I can't believe I actually read the same book as others. Really not for me. Grateful it was only 227 pages.
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A perfect novel for fans of Such A Fun Age and My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Brilliantly insightful on race, class, family, loss and the unsettling years of being in your twenties. The writing is pointed, undestated and yet exquistely so. At times its matter-of-factness is startling, revealing the hithertoo unacknowledged emotional underlife that the narrator experiences, as a grieving woman, as a black woman, as a sexualised woman.
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Edie is a 23 year old artist working at a publisher to make ends meet. She’s in a weird relationship with an older man Eric which turns into a strange ‘ménage à trois’ with Eric’s wife Rebecca. When Edie loses her job she goes to live with them at Rebecca’s invitation. The couple have an adopted black child Akila who is unhappy not least because apart from Edie is is surrounded by a world of white. 

This book does not work as well for me as I hoped. First of all, although I respect Edie’s honesty and find her occasional humour refreshing, the premise seems so unrealistic. I cannot understand why a vibrant woman like her would get involved with Eric in the first place. Edie is very lonely, is very creative and has a desire to find a place to belong but it certainly isn’t where she ends up. She has little self esteem and sees herself in sexual terms which I find sad.  Eric is not at all likeable, he can be very morose and his causal violence directed at Edie is appalling. She keeps seeing him  despite these things and I just ask myself why??? For Rebecca to accept the situation even to the extent of drawing up rules and then allowing Edie into their home seems too unbelievable. Apart from Edie the characters are not particularly well defined and this is because of the style it’s written in which I find hard to get to grips with. It goes of topic, into tangents and becomes confusing. It’s extremely wordy with some very long sentences and large paragraphs and this loses the depth of character development. The dynamics between the three seem off kilter and odd and it’s hard to accept from Akila’s perspective too. What would a young teenager make of it??? 

Clearly Raven Leilani is very talented and has a great future ahead of her but this one is not a good fit for me. The book is very different which I like, it does make some pertinent points but these can get lost in the prose. It’s dark in places with racism, sexism and promiscuity and although these things do make you think I also find my attention wandering in sections. However, don’t let my inability to connect with the storytelling as other readers loved it. 

With thanks to NetGalley and Pan McMillan:Picador for the arc for an honest review.
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Luster is a melancholic, witty and sharp exploration of one young Black womans experience, at once a striking portrait of youth, loneliness, being an artist and finding oneself. I feel like this will be a polarising book off the bat with some readers who will thoroughly enjoy the unfiltered, unfettered prose and other readers being put off by this and some of the more troubling subject matter. While there were definitely times I was uncomfortable reading this book - I think that's kind of the point, as Raven Leilani doesn't shy away from stating it how it is through her prose. I empathised so much with Edie as she goes through numerous toxic encounters with men, as we read about her mothers suicide and how this has affected her and how alone and adrift she feels. Leilani delivers some really powerful explorations of race, class and gender and what it is to be a twenty something in todays world. 

This is definitely more of a character driven novel, with it moving slowly forward, undulating with the undiluted thoughts and feelings of Edie as she finds herself in a strange relationship between Eric and his wife Rebecca and their adopted daughter Akila. The dynamic between all the characters is definitely strange, but interesting to read and I found myself trying to figure it out, but even till the end it remained kind of hazy. I thought the relationship between Edie and Rebecca - the other woman and the wife - the most surprising and subversive, there's moments of cruelty but also startling tenderness. I also felt for Akila, adopted by a white couple and being the only Black child in her neighbourhood, being subject to micro-agressions and outright racism which her parents, well meaning as they are have no idea how to handle. I liked how the small moments of compassion and care creeped up between her and Edie and were steadily woven in to the story, with Edie helping Akila with her hair, finding solace in playing video games together and encouraging Akila with her interests in writing and comics. 

I found the most compelling bits of the novel to be the moments where Edie is alone and sort of pondering on her loneliness and solitude. I can honestly say that this has to be one of the most real and honest portrayals of loneliness and trauma I've read thus far, with the author managing to put into words so many subtle elements of how this feels and it's so haunting. This is a book which is full of pain, and it hurts to read at times, when I finished reading it, I felt a sense of loss and vulnerability which is indescribable but I think some of the best books can evoke these complex emotions. This book isn't an easy read by any means but I've found myself enjoying authors works who unashamedly let us in to the minds and experiences of their characters without justifying their actions or apologising for their messiness and complexity. 

Overall, Luster is a truly memorable novel and a stunning debut which will be sure to turn many heads.
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Instead of a book about being young right now, like it says, it feels more a book that cuts open loneliness in many people whose stories become messily interlinked and lays it bare in all its discomfort. Very good and quick read.
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