Subtle Beasts: A Novel
Synopsis as found (kind of) in the Faber Academy Anthology
Subtle Beasts is a novel in stories set in the beautiful, rowdy, intoxicated mess of contemporary Beirut. Weaving in and out of the lives of a set of the city’s residents, it is a novel of barely kept secrets, daily struggle, violent escapism and a search for hope in the most hopeless of places. With occasional pitch-black humour, it explores themes of deception, small-town claustrophobia, instability, anxiety and violence. It will appeal to fans of Elmore Leonard, Joe R. Lansdale and Parker Bilal.
Subtle Beasts starts at a drug-and-alcohol-fuelled after-party in a gleaming penthouse high above the mayhem of a swanky neighbourhood. Soon enough the party descends into its own brand of mayhem as the guests turn on each other after the host is accidentally killed. In the following stories, we meet Bash, a suspended Metropolitan police officer who has come to his native Beirut to care for his dying father; Yasmine, an entrepreneur raising money for her startup from a militia; Hicham, a first officer whose tense relationship with his captain erupts mid-flight threatening the safety of a flight to Beirut; and Adanech, an Ethiopian housemaid who plans her escape from an abusive household at a Teddy Afro concert. We also meet Rida, a former professional Syrian footballer — now a refugee in the city — making ends meet by joining five-a-side games; Sarkis, who is looking for a venue to host the city’s first drag queen ball; Ali who is trying hard not to go back to a life of selling Captagon pills on the streets of his neighbourhood; and Lea, the first openly atheist candidate to run for Lebanese parliament.
All of the stories come crashing together in a violent final act, as we meet The Bombmaker, a man responsible for putting together 87 of the hundreds car bombs that have cratered the city over decades. He doesn’t care about religion or political allegiance, he just sells his expertise to the highest bidder. His 88th car bomb is placed in a narrow street, where it is meant to kill the head of an Army division who knows too many government secrets. All of our characters are affected by this final act of senseless violence, revealing the constant unpredictability of life in countries that just don’t have luck on their side.