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Summary

Winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize 2021

Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2021

The Sunday Times best seller

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, she is sleeping with all the wrong men and she has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her: painting. 

No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted Black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. 

As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young Black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Razor sharp, provocatively unstoppable and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now.

A best book of the year: Guardian, New York Times, New Yorker, Boston Globe, Literary Hub, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times, Glamour, Time, Good Housekeeping, InStyle, NPR, O Magazine, Buzzfeed, Electric Literature, Town & Country, Wired, New Statesman, Vox, Shelf Awareness, i-D, BookPage and more.

One of Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2020

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award.

©2020 Raven Leilani (P)2021 Macmillan Publishers International Ltd

Critic reviews

"A taut, sharp, funny book about being young now. It’s brutal - and brilliant." (Zadie Smith, author of Swing Time)

"Remarkable, the most delicious novel I’ve read." (Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie)

"Ridiculously good.... I will follow this author anywhere she wants to take me." (Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties)

"A book of pure fineness, exceptional." (Diana Evans, Guardian

"A giddy joy, crafted with mischievous perfection." (Mail on Sunday

What listeners say about Luster

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Rampant and pithy

This debut novel by Raven Leilani has been heavily hyped. It tells the story of a young black women called Edie who loves disco music and enters a strange relationship with an older married white man, with the permission of his wife. At times darkly comedic and at times excruciatingly cringeworthy, this is full on stuff with no holding back. Subjects such as race and class are tackled head on, but the strength of this story is the insight it gives into the complex lives of the characters who are believable and compelling. It is rampant and pithy stuff and I loved it.

4 people found this helpful

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Unsettling, convincing, shocking

Hard to pin down, a very modernistic-feeling tale.

Edie. Office worker. Twenty-three. No qualms about sleeping with men, pandering to their whims, searching for something that clicks. With dreams of focusing on her art.

This is her story, a relatively brief account of the months after she meets a man twice her age, married but openly so. We see a very honest Edie describe and live through the early stages of getting to know Eric, before she unexpectedly becomes more entangled with his family.

Leilani gives us a slightly dark peek at the contemporary world of young women, single and unafraid, open to new experiences and searching for that direction that offers them future happiness. And an escape from boredom and mundanity.

The characters aren't wholly likeable, I found it difficult to watch Edie acquiescing to the demands of various men, not exactly submissively but not from a position of power either.

Such an unusual spin on the theme of affairs, of entanglements and wives and marriages. It's a story set in our time, of our time. Eric pales in comparison to his wife as a character of interest - how she interacts with Edie is much more interesting in my opinion.

This isn't a long book, it's a fairly slow story where a lot is thought and explored. It might make readers uncomfortable but it did feel like a hidden story from the world we inhabit that is probably going on under our noses. Is this really what life for the young is?

I don't know how I feel about that. Is it a freer life? A more joyless one?

It makes a wonderful audiobook, the intense closeness of some of the scenes narrated for us by Edie as we listen along, the first person immediacy only increasing some of the dark tension. It is an uncomplicated Audible choice, one with a straight structure that won't confuse.

This will repeat on you, Edie and her life, her choices, the strange situation she finds herself in. One for discussion and consideration.

With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

4 people found this helpful

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A gutting staggering debut.

Leilani's perceptive acuity and linguistic exactitude dissects as she creates, each scene rich with revelation.

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looked promising but got bored and didn't like end

looked good to start but I got bored and I didn't like the ending either

1 person found this helpful

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truly outstanding

the way raven uses words is so captivating you are taken on a beautiful journey. having now finished the book I feel empty!

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Hypnotic

This book is exquisitely written and equally exquisitely read. I absolutely loved this. The pacing is mesmerising.

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enjoyable but not bowled over

perhaps I've read too many books with lackadaisical protagonists recently so found this a little bit tiresome. I can definitely connect with that feeling as a similar age to the character; the jadedness of millennials is a bit too on the nose. I'd still recommend reading it, some beautiful and haunting descriptions

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masterful storytelling. rich and dark and true.

brilliant writing that is well performed by the narrator. listened to the whole thing in 3 days.

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Absolutely perfect book

Leilani is the most talented writer alive. The lyricism on every single page is astounding. Listening to this audiobook felt like falling in love.

So many of the reviews for this book featured the bizarre criticism that it's "unrealistic", implying that the characters' choices aren't justified. This is nonsense. It betrays a failure of empathy and imagination around nonmonogamy. Trust me when I say the actions of Edie, Rebecca and Eric are extremely believable and true to life if you have even the slightest bit of experience with open relationships.

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This book is hatd to pin down but beautiful.

It tells the story of an unconventional extramarital affair involving three people on the edge in various ways. How children can be messed up by the adults who supposedly care for them. Race, gender and sexuality and age are also important themes. However the best thing about this book are the beautiful prose that drip from the page.

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Profile Image for Martin Ladd
  • Martin Ladd
  • 05-04-21

A great listen

The story was often confronting and the protagonist’s life choices questionable, but this is an entertaining book. It deals with big issues in an understated and insightful way. Raven Leilani’s writing is superlative. A writer to look out for. Credit is also due to Ariel Blake for an authentic and captivating performance that never intrudes on the story.