While I enjoyed Elif Shafak’s unique “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World”, I have to be upfront and say that I’m not sure how it made it to a Booker Prize shortlist. I couldn’t help but think that the conceit which provides the structure for the first part of the book – that the mind carries on working for 10 minutes after death – was, true or not, actually little more than a gimmick for a third party past tense narrative that is fundamentally traditional. It might have been a different matter if the structure and style of the accompanying narrative were more innovative.
And that traditional style is front and centre for the second and third parts of the novel.
Having said all that, Shafak’s characters are richly drawn, consumed by their emotional responses to the world in which they live and to their friends within that world; a cast of misfits placed in a city that seems to suit them. In some respects, although the novel is Leila’s story, it ends up being that of her five friends just as much. Introduced to us through Leila’s ‘dead memory’ meanderings in the the first part of the book, they really come into their own when she is not present as a ‘narrative voice’ but rather a corpse i.e. in parts two and three.
There are rites of passage everywhere in the book – and it is probably one all the more rewarding the second time around.