At the age of eight Emma frequently witnesses domestic violence, seeing her father attack her mother. One night Emma’s father comes home drunk. Her parents fight on the balcony of their high-rise flat. Her father falls from the balcony to his death.
Emma’s mother stands accused of her husband’s murder. She denies her guilt. The police cannot find much by way of evidence. Emma is potentially a witness but on account of her age cannot be regarded as reliable. The case against Emma’s mother never comes to trial. Nevertheless public pressure on the mother is so violent that she and Emma are forced to leave their home.
The story resumes eight years later. Emma moved school when she moved home. She and her mother are now living with her maternal grandmother and her mother’s sister, plus the aunt’s two daughters, all crowded into a cramped flat. Emma and her mother sleep in the flat’s only living room. Emma becomes desperate to get her hands on enough money to find a new place for her and her mother to live. The rest of the book narrates the various stratagems Emma pursues in the quest for that money and the trials and tribulations she endures as a result.
Khorsandi’s book features pornography, sexual abuse and rape, teenage pregnancy and miscarriage. The story also describes phobia directed at a trans person. At times Emma’s ordeals are somewhat unrelenting. One problem, one source of misery, seems to follow another without relief. Emma’s complete inability to foresee trouble and take action to mitigate her suffering may also irritate readers. These misgivings aside however, I have no hesitation in recognising this as a book of marked significance. It is remarkable that a woman celebrated for her ability to make people laugh should write a book calculated to reduce readers to tears.