released OUT NOW! 448 pages | Paperback/ebook Author Nina allan Publisher Titan Books
For several years now, nina Allan has been making a name for herself with clever, layered short stories – especially among UK readers, as a 2014 British Science Fiction Association award for her novella Spin attests – as well as for thoughtfully probing book reviews. Her debut novel, originally published in 2014 by a small press, has now been reissued in a revised, expanded edition, and it’s the perfect showcase both for her interest in how stories work, and for the skill and sheer readability of her writing.
Like much of Allan’s fiction, The Race is very carefully constructed, the sort of book that reveals more of itself the more you think about it. (Far from everything, though – if you’re the sort of reader who prefers all mysteries to be solved by the final page, you’ll come away from this one disappointed. In that respect, at least.) There are five parts to the novel – four first-person narratives centred on four different characters, plus the 70 pages of the new “appendix” – and each part builds upon, refracts, and challenges the others, in ways that are endlessly fascinating but tricky to synopsise.
The tense and melancholy first part takes place in an alternative future England, in a south-coast town devastated by the sideeffects of fracking, whose economy has become dependent on a mixture of dark tourism, illegal drugs and the racing of genetically enhanced “smartdogs” (hounds modified so they can communicate telepathically with their “runners”). Then we learn it was all just a story written by the protagonist of part two – but this narrator’s presentation of things is, in turn, called into question by what we see later. Keeping track of parallels and contradictions is half the fun.
The Race can be read in multiple different ways: as a tale of parallel worlds, of families breaking apart, of the refuge of imagination when reality is too hard to bear. It’ll grip you and scramble your brain, and do it all with some stunningly beautiful imagery. What more could you want from genre fiction?
A key inspiration for the book was the 2000 film Amores Perros, part of which centres on dogfighting in Mexico City.