I’M A FAN tells the story of an unnamed narrator’s involvement in a seemingly unequal romantic relationship. With a clear and unforgiving eye, Sheena Patel makes startling connections between power struggles at the heart of human relationships to those in the wider world, offering a devastating critique of social media, access and patriarchal systems
‘I’m A Fan’ was one of four books that I picked from the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2023 Longlist.
It’s a debut novel that the Literary Fiction establishment in the UK seems to have fallen in love with. As well as the Women’s Prize for fiction, it was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2023, the Chalk Prize 2023, the British Book Awards Book of the Year (Discover) 2023 and the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2023. It was also picked by the Observer newspaper as Best Debut Novel of 2022.
Sadly, it turns out that I’m not a fan.
This was always a possibility. The publisher’s summary of ‘I’m A Fan‘ didn’t win me over. It sounded worthy in an inaccessible way. The cover art struck me as lazy, generic and eye-wateringly ugly. Then, I looked inside the book and saw an incredibly long paragraph and my inner pedant said ‘Oh, dear. We’re doing something new with form are we?‘
Why didn’t I listen to my inner pedant? Well, I read the first chapter which is a single paragraph of 530 words and I was curious enough about what would happen next that I pushed to one side any concerns about inaccessibility and form-divergent styling and decided to give it a go.
I should have listened to my inner pedant.
I read four chapters (16 pages out of 228) and I knew this wasn’t going to work for me.
Oddly, it wasn’t the long paragraphs or the refusal to use quotation marks to punctuate dialogue that had me putting this aside. It was simply that I don’t believe in the unnamed narrator. She seems like a thought experiment, a conceit designed to showcase clever insights, rather than someone real. I know that she’s not meant to be Jane Average. Even she is aware that her way of seeing the world deviates from the norm. Even so, I need something that gives me a reason to care about this person enough to keep reading. What I got was a female stalker who seems to see relationships as a power struggle, a conflict that needs a strategy and which will have a winner. There’s some humour there in a slightly snarky look how weird rich people are way but nothing that connected me to the narrator.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is supposed to help me grasp the dissociative relationship the narrator has with the world and herself? Maybe it’s a comment on the facile, ephemeral and essentially sterile nature of our digitally curated social interactions,
Whatever the point is, I’m not going to wade through another 200 pages of long, ostentatiously unpunctuated paragraphs to find out.