Review by E. Kirshe
Intimate, and colorfully written, Besotted by Melissa Duclos was an absorbing read. Told from the perspective of Sasha, a member of the Shanghai expatriate community, this novel is focused on her relationship with Liz, a young woman Sasha pulls to Shanghai and maneuvers into dating her.
“‘What made you want to bring me here?’
‘You signed the letter Besottedly.’ That wasn’t really it, or that wasn’t all of it, but it was all I could give her.
Liz shrugged. ‘It means drunk.’
I shook my head. ‘It means in love.’’”
Besotted is an unpretentious story that stays grounded in its relationship woes and isolated expat community. It often reads like a slice of life even among the lyrical language and sometimes sinister machinations of our narrator. Sasha’s ability to love Liz so wholly comes from her inability to look inward at herself no matter how eloquently she can talk about her own issues (to herself and not to the therapist she seems to need).
“Love shivers when the sun goes behind a cloud, and in the darkening evening, even in the month of May, she has goose flesh and a bone-chill that cannot be shaken.”
Sasha’s narration appears omniscient but it is unreliable, she often admits to imagining events in the obsessive way of someone who is looking to figure out how she ended up where she is. She often comments on events she wasn’t present for.
Sasha’s need to imagine actions and motivations makes her seem more isolated than most, though everyone in the expat community is notably separate from the rest of Shanghai. Following these outsiders the loneliness each character feels is augmented as they keep to their little community, go to happy hour after happy hour at bars aimed at Westerners like themselves and visit Starbucks.
“Starbucks was overpriced and overcrowded, a place where people paid for the illusion of international sophistication, where they called their frothy sweet drinks coffee as though the word any longer held meaning.”
The more we learn about everyone the more sad yet beautiful and real this book is. Everyone in Shanghai seems to have run there for new and better lives, wanting to escape their own for whatever reason.
Sasha seemed to be outrunning her father and attempting to outrun her depression. Dorian, also part of Sasha’s expat world, wants to settle there as though buying his foreign home will be what makes him an adult, Liz wanted excitement handed to her. Even Sam, the Shanghai native who becomes Liz’s language partner took the job out of a need for something more interesting.
Covering the big things in life from love, isolation, longing and even desperation, Besotted is a unique and engrossing debut novel.