BOOK REVIEW: NIGHTSHIFT, BY KIARE LADNER
Updated: Aug 20
When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognizes in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing preoccupation with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.
Dark, sexy, frightening, Nightshift explores ambivalent female friendship, sexual attraction and lives that defy easy categorization. London’s stark urban reality is rendered other-worldly and strange as Meggie’s sleep deprivation, drinking and fixation with Sabine gain a momentum all of their own. Can Meggie really lose herself in her trying to become someone else?
A novel of obsession and desire, Kiare Ladner’s Nightshift is a beautiful and moving debut which asks profound questions about who we are and if we can truly escape ourselves.
Meggie leads a relatively normal life for a conventional woman of the early '90s. She has an average but stable job, an average but stable relationship with her boyfriend, and has taken to reading English Lit at college again.
But like many people who read, Meggie longs to live life like the characters from her books. Unconventional, against the grain, out of mainstream society, romantic. She wants to live and love more freely, feel more deeply, be more authentically; she wants to experience the "other".
Then along comes Sabine, the Belgian-borne, exotic, free spirit that represents everything Meggie is seeking. Sabine is the sexy, alternative, unhindered, and defiantly free woman that Meggie longs to be.
And so the obsession begins.
An obsession that sees Meggie slowly unravel, from swapping to the nightshift to be nearer Sabine, to quitting her studies, to leaving her boyfriend to explore her sexuality, and testing the limits of her own boundaries and those of others. Over the course of the tale we see Meggie become parasite to the host that is Sabine, crawling inside of her and emerging, beautiful and ugly, as a version of Sabine herself.
Meggie's obsession is intense, focused, and sharpened to a point that is as heart breaking as it is inevitable. We watch, behind covered eyes, as Meggie pushes herself further, harder, and into the darker corners of life. She abuses and degrades herself, justifying it as a distorted type of feminist freedom, making for difficult reading.
Author Kiare Ladner writes disturbing very well. Her characters are eccentric misfits on the edge of society (the message being who else would subject themselves to a nocturnal life of sleep deprivation and seedy daytime drinking?) but they look after each other and provide the camaraderie that Meggie needs to feel part of an out group. I love the alternative view of London, which appears even more enchanting by night that it does day, and the 1990s feel is captured perfectly.
Nightshift is darkly riveting, sexy, and exposes the weaknesses of human being-ness with insight, executed beautifully. I look forward to reading more from author Ladner.
4* and highly recommended.
About the Author
As a child, Kiare Ladner wanted to live on a farm, run an orphanage and be on stage. As an adult, she found herself working for academics, with prisoners and on nightshifts. Her short stories have been published in South Africa, where she grew up, and the UK, where she lives now. Nightshift is her debut novel.