In Mona Arshi’s debut novel, which has been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths prize (the winner is announced next week), a British-Indian girl named Ruby suddenly stops speaking. She recalls how, after a teacher asked her a question at school, “I opened my mouth as a sort of formality but closed it softly, knowing with perfect certainty that nothing would ever come out again.” Ruby is tested for aural dysfunction, assorted viruses and “general stupidity”, and shrugs off the efforts of peers, teachers and her therapist to make her talk. As she moves up to secondary school, her father anxiously suggests she take the opportunity to reinvent herself by finally engaging in conversation. But still, she remains silent.
Arshi, a poet and former human rights lawyer, is the silky-voiced narrator of this vivid coming-of-age tale; her reading is tender, thoughtful and full of heart. Through Ruby’s child’s-eye view, we learn her mother has had a mental breakdown which occurred the same day that her sister, Rania, found a fox cub and tried to bring it into the house. Ruby also mourns the loss of her pen-pal, Clare, after Clare’s father found out his daughter’s correspondent had brown skin.
The chapters in Somebody Loves You are short – some comprise just a few sentences – and the language is crisp and economical. There is power in what remains unsaid, something that is understood by Arshi’s young heroine. “That’s the thing with words,” she observes. “They flit out of your mouth into the air, there’s no going back once they’re out.”
• Somebody Loves You is available via Saga Egmont, 4hr 4min
James Joyce, Audible Studios, 7hr 22min
The actor and comic Chris O’Dowd reads this celebrated short story collection about the inhabitants of Dublin who include a college student, an alcoholic scrivener and a young woman deciding whether to run away with her lover.
Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?
Dr Julie Smith, Penguin Audio, 7hr 13min
Smith, a clinical psychologist, narrates her book of advice for improved mental health, from managing anxiety and low moods to building self-confidence.