Wednesday, 31 July 2019

In The Company Of Strangers by Awais Khan

In The Company Of Strangers by Awais Khan
Published in the UK by The Book Guild on the 28th July 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and a 2019 COYER Summer Hunt read

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Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status... everything except for freedom. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging... 

Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a world of glitter, glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man, years younger than her. 

Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy everything that Mona has ever held dear. 

In The Company Of Strangers is set within the glittering elite social circles of Lahore where being invited to the right parties and being seen with the right people seem to be all that matters. However in this novel Khan swiftly takes us behind that facade. The first chapter is a shocking description of a young suicide bomber walking to a predetermined location and blowing himself up - together with everyone else in the vicinity. It's an immensely powerful start which led me to expect a certain style of novel. Khan doesn't allow himself to be channelled into any one direction though. Instead he allows us glimpses into a number of different lives, all of which will be affected by the repercussions of that initial violence.

I think what I loved the most was Khan's sharply observed character portrayals. I'm struggling to think of a single participant whom I actually liked because they are generally quite self-serving and can be incredibly spiteful to each other! Reading their barbed comments and conversations from this distance was entertaining and a good counterpoint to the several dark narrative threads which include terrorism, domestic abuse and sexual assault. Mona is a strange creation. I understand that I should have empathised with her predicament, but I found this difficult to do. 

I felt I preferred the first half of In The Company Of Strangers because it is more detailed about Lahore and its inhabitants. Once the pace picks up in the latter chapters, I wasn't always sure I could follow people's motivations and I did wonder if Khan was throwing in too many emotional triggers to be completely believable. That aside, this is an enjoyable novel which manages to explore difficult themes in an interesting and exciting story.

Meet the author

Awais Khan is a graduate of Western University and Durham University. Having been an avid reader and writer all his life, he decided to take the plunge and study Novel Writing and Editing at Faber Academy in London. His work has appeared in the Missing Slate Magazine, Daily Times and MODE, and he has been interviewed by leading television channels like PTV, Voice of America, Samaa TV and City 42, to name a few. He is also the Founder of The Writing Institute, one of the largest institutions for Creative Writing in Pakistan. He lives in Lahore and frequently visits London for business.

Author links: 
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  1. The characters sound almost unlikable but the story sounds interesting.

    1. Several of the characters are really not nice people, but their story is no less compelling for that

    2. Isn't that strange how that works sometimes? You absolutely can not stand a character and the things they do/say, but you can't stop reading about them?

    3. I've got another similar review coming up (for Sarong Party Girls) where I really couldn't get on with the main character, but loved other aspects of the book

  2. I am loving that shade of orange on the cover, and as a character driven reader I know I would appreciate that character portrayal. Lovely review x

    1. Thanks Olivia!
      I would definitely read more of Awais Khan's work after this novel :-)