Hayleigh, A.K.A Layla, is a young woman from a small town who has run away to the big city (London) to find her place in the world. Instead, she has found herself in a seedy lap-dancing club, fighting off the self-loathing as much as the groping hands of the “Elegance” punters. She left behind a young son, Connor, after tensions with her mother became unbearable but is haunted by this and desperately clinging to the hope that if only she earns enough money she can return and be part of his life again. Over the course of a week, Hayleigh’s life spins further out of control. Putting herself through horrific hangovers and comedowns and battling jealousy, she finds herself acting even more irrationally, homeless, and being pressured into taking up porn as a new career path. As the cover of the book asks “how much is enough?” When will Layla reach her breaking point and can she go back to being Hayleigh?
Narrated by Hayleigh, the voice is remarkably fresh and consistent. The way Hayleigh refers to herself as “you” rather than “I” feels authentic to her background but also is quite symbolic in the fact that she feels as though she needs to remove herself from her actions. Further, this turn of phrase forces the reader into her shoes and creates an immediate feeling of empathy with the character.
There are a few moments when Hayleigh’s behaviour seems so bizarre it bordering on absurd but as you read more into the book you begin to realise the significance and the meaning of the incident. A prime example is when Hayleigh, crawling her way home after a night out, finds an injured pigeon and takes him home to nurse better. This has mixed results, she finds him comforting, but leaves him under her bed in a box with no food for extended periods of time and ultimately abandons him. Is Hayleigh incapable of being responsible, is this what happened with Connor? Soon though, we learn that Hayleigh had a favourite game with Connor where she would pretend to be a pigeon. It is in fact Hayleigh herself who needs taken care of but she neglects herself and trusts no one else.
Layla is an extremely well written and original novel. It is delicately structured with layers of meaning and Hayleigh is a true modern-day heroine for young women in this situation. Although you only see a week of Hayleigh’s life you feel intimately connected with her and even if you disagree with some of her decisions you can’t help but feel compassion for her. Nina de la Mer proves herself to be a true talent with this gritty, urban fairytale.