Miss Thing, By Nora Chassler Two Ravens Press, £9.99 Order for £9.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Dazzling debut is just the thing
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The Independent Culture

At the heart of Nora Chassler's shimmering debut novel is 16-year-old Andromeda, whose famously shocking academic/film-critic mother, Sophie, has just committed suicide by jumping from the window of their New York apartment. In theory, Sophie's own mother is now looking after Andromeda. But she's too busy romancing the girl's headmaster. So Miss Thing is left to her own devices and the gaze of a colourful cast of characters, most of whom want to write their idea of her into creative projects.

Told from various points of view – including Andromeda's and her sort-of-love-interest neighbour Sam's – this ambitious, intricate novel is almost impossible to précis. On the surface, it's about Andromeda's response to her mother's death (shoplifting, truanting, visits to previously forbidden chain stores feature), and her developing relationship with Sam, a beached 33-year-old writer whose marriage is following his career onto the rocks.

In Greek myth, Andromeda's father sacrifices her to the sea monster Poseidon sent to punish her mother for boasting about her beauty. That Andromeda is rescued by Perseus. Sam – not natural hero material – asks this Andromeda if she expects him to rescue her.

Gifting her characters strong, earthy voices and grounding the book in a carefully mapped area of New York frees Chassler to "futz" (one of her words) about with time, point of view and ideas of authority. Frederico Escobar, a gay, reformed alcoholic who tells us he met Andromeda the day after Sophie killed herself, claims the book as his work in the "Author's Preface", dated 2002. The last page bears Sophie's moniker, "svz", dated 2006. Truths change depending on which character is narrating or writing.

Miss Thing demands – and rewards – close attention. It's clever, playful and often darkly funny. It's also touching. One of the items Andromeda steals is a bottle of the perfume her mother wore. And her vulnerability is echoed in the aphorisms that head each chapter, penned by Chassler's late father.

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