2020 releases · women's prize for fiction

Women’s Prize 2021 Reviews #1: Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster: Amazon.co.uk: Leilani, Raven: 9781529035988: BooksGoodreads blurb: Luster sees a young black woman figuring her way into life as an artist and into love in this darkly comic novel. She meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage. In this world of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics, Edie finds herself unemployed and living with Eric. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.


I do not think I’ve mentioned this previously, BUT Luster is probably my favorite book I read so far this year. This worked for me on practically all fronts and it was the perfect “disaster woman” book for me. First of all, Edie was a fantastic narrator – she is incredibly interesting and really perceptive, which allows for the kind of narration style I really enjoy, one that is hyper focused on the character, but also really detailed in how they perceive their surroundings. Edie is also incredibly frustrating and annoying, but in a way that feels so very real and so very relatable. The balance between Edie being so perceptive and aware and her still deciding to do really stupid shit was great – I respect her for being a galaxy brain woman with single brain cell decisions.

Of course, things are not so simple as I made them out to be in that last sentence. This book stands out from other similar narratives in that Edie is a Black woman, so the fact that she makes bad decisions, and she is still aware how those are especially difficult for her as a Black woman, added a layer to the story that I do not think some of the previous novels from this “genre” that I read or heard about managed to do. I was especially impressed with how issues of class and poverty were handdled in this novel, and it was very refreshing for me personally, since I never feel like books handle class in a way that is satisfying for me.

This was also compulsively readable. The pacing of the novel was spot on for me, and the writing style so palatable and yet so sharp and incisive. I think Leilani is such a competent writer, one that excels at both social commentary and really great character work. The tone of this novel was also really interesting. There’s quite a shift in it about halfway through, with the second half taking on an surreal, almost horror-like but definitely suspensful and eerie tone. That was something that I found really interesting. This was also really funny at times, not in a laugh out loud way, but in a way that really makes you appreciate the dark humour of it.


Overall, this was such a fantastic novel that was just perfectly suited to my taste. I listened to it on audio, so I did not process it as well as I would have liked and I will have to reread it at some point, so I did not give it a full 5 stars, but it was still brilliant and I could not recommend it more.



I would love to hear from you – have you read this? Is it on your TBR? If not, ADD IT! And let’s chat!

In the meantime, happy reading




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11 thoughts on “Women’s Prize 2021 Reviews #1: Luster by Raven Leilani

  1. Great review! I’ve been struggling with my review of this one because I loved Edie’s character and how observant the prose is but I still had a hard time staying engaged because of how directionless the plot seemed- even though that makes perfect sense for Edie and the book’s themes… Definitely a worthwhile book I’m glad to have read though, and it’s great to see it earned such a high rating from you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree about the plot! I am still unsure how I would feel if I have read this physically instead on audio – the reading experience was super engaging for me, but that might have been due to the audio narration? I definitely need to reread it at some point.

      Liked by 1 person

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