By Charles Donelan
Hogarth, a prestige imprint at Penguin Random House that’s devoted to hot new literary fiction, will publish Hannah Tennant-Moore’s debut novel on February 9, 2016. For a young novelist, this is a heady achievement. Tennant-Moore is on a list that’s already crowded with Booker nominees and National Book Critics Circle Award winners, and Wreck and Order looks likely to get the same kind of elite attention.
To the author’s credit, that’s in many ways the least interesting thing about this compulsively readable, at times shocking first-person narrative. Far from being some genteel experiment with fictional form or a sentimental account of coming of age, this is instead the first novel as shot across the bow, an opening salvo in what promises to be a contrarian career. Protagonist Elsie Shore is a financially independent young woman who trades the typical four-year-college route for a series of increasingly wild adventures, many of them carnal.
Beginning in a Carpinteria dive bar, and ranging as far abroad from our region as Brooklyn and Sri Lanka, Wreck and Order provides a glimpse inside the head of a brilliant, highly critical millennial mind that’s driven by alternating impulses of “lust and rage.” Lest this sound overly harsh, know that Elsie is also an extraordinarily good listener, especially to the broken English spoken by her best friend in Sri Lanka, Suriya.
The novel’s forthright candor about sexuality can’t be separated from its equally direct approach to contemporary politics. In fact, the connection between the two may be the one sure thing in Elsie Shore’s perpetual oscillations. One minute she’s getting a bikini wax, and the next she’s imagining “that the strips of hot wax were being applied and yanked against my will” in a secret CIA prison or Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. It’s Tennant-Moore’s breathtaking command of the syntax of the long sentence that makes the book so readable. Elsie’s sinuous, ever-surprising thoughts wind over and over again into paragraph-long arabesques, and the effect is near hypnotic. Expect it to make a big splash among aficionados of serious fiction in 2016.
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