Yelena Moskovich – Virtuoso (4 stars)

Yelena Moskovich – Virtuoso

Surreal and challenging second novel from the author of The Natashas

Yelena Moskovich is back with a second novel and much like her debut, The Natashas, Virtuoso shares the same surreal style and shunning of linear narratives and definitives. The book follows a young Jana and Zorka in 1980's Communist-era Czechoslovakia, who are figuring out who they are and exploring their sexual identities together. Zorka is an angry child, Jana is studious, but when Zorka leaves without a trace, Jana is pushed to discover who she is by herself.

Unfolding side-by-side is the story of Aimée and Dominique living in Paris, their relationship traced through falling in love, hardships and ultimately grief. As the women move on with their lives, Jana, Aimée and Zorka collide in Paris and it brings with it realisations and relief. As well as following the four women, a third narrative is jaggedly woven in, showing 0_hotgirlAmy_0, an American teenager, and Dominxxika_N39, a repressed Czech housewife, in a lesbian internet chatroom.

Throughout the novel, what is real and what is not is hard to discern, but that's where the magic of the text lies. It plays with the reader's mind and tests its audience with bursts of energy and surreal fluctuations. While queer fiction can often (wrongly) be corralled into a restrictive category, Moskovich's novel deliberately strays from stereotypical tropes. A particularly poignant moment is introduced through Zorka's friendship with Rico, a trans man. The representation of acceptance and pure love we see from his family is stunning and necessary in these times. Ultimately Virtuoso is a bizarre, challenging yet unique read.

Out Thu 17 Jan via Serpent's Tail.

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