“The Runaways” by Fatima Bhutto – Review

We read for book group this tale of three young people who are in various ways dissatisfied with their lives – in Karachi and in Portsmouth.

The different routes into islamic extremism and the impulses that lead to it are a fascinating area to explore, so the premise is a rich one. Certainly the opening holds the attention, and particularly Sunny’s observations of his peers in Portsmouth and his attitude to his father who came to Britain as a way of finding a new life for himself.

But I felt the structure of the novel doesn’t work in its favour – the exceedingly short chapters jump between the different characters’ perspectives so fast that there is no opportunity to be drawn into any of them before breaking away to the next one. Additionally, there’s a mid-story twist but by the time the revelation is made, it has already become obvious from the structure, so there is no surprise at all.

Once the action moves to Syria, and the perspectives all come from the same place and that diversity is lost. It would also perhaps have been interesting to understand the perspectives of the friends and family unfiltered by the ideological fugue and limited communications contact of our three protagonists. The narrative trudges towards a perfunctory conclusion.

For book club I gave it 6/10.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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