Paperbacks: Greater Love, by Lucy Wadham

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The Independent Culture

Lucy Wadham's fascination with southern Europe has lent her fiction an exotic edge. Her first two novels, set in Corsica and the Basque country, captured an over-heated world of small time crooks and Maquis-style terrorism. Greater Love relates the history of a pair of Portuguese siblings, and their accidental involvement with a group of Islamic fundamentalists.

Twins Aisha and Jose are brought up in Coelhoso, a remote hill-top village only just out of the Middle Ages. The product of a neglected childhood – their mother was raped – Jose never learns to speak, while Aisha, age 20, escapes to Paris. Jose eventually joins his sister, inauspiciously arriving in the city on September 11 2001. The two siblings carve out new lives: Aisha learning about sex and philosophy under the guidance of a Left Bank intellectual; Jose finding his voice with the help of a charismatic Muslim sheik. At the heart of the ambitious literary saga lies Aisha's quest to understand her brother, and her own part in his final, catastrophic breakdown. Moving from Portugal to Paris, Morocco to California, Wadham manages to endow each chapter of Aisha's life – any section of which might have made a novel in itself – with a stark authenticity. Paris, however, seems to be the city in which both the author and her heroine come to life.