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Her Here, by Amanda Dennis.

May 27, 2020

Her Here

Her Here, by Amanda Dennis.  Bellevue Press, 2021

Forthcoming 2021

4 stars

A haunting, philosophical novel, set in Paris, about a motherless daughter helping a daughterless mother find her child who has disappeared in Thailand by creating a narrative about her.

Amanda Dennis is an academic, now teaching at the American University of Paris, and following her interests in the relationship of philosophy and literature.  She was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Princeton.  In addition, she has a PhD from Berkeley, an MPhil in European Literature and Culture from Cambridge, and an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  An avid traveler, she has lived around the globe and received international awards and fellowships. Her numerous scholarly articles relate to twentieth-century French philosophers, their relationship to literature, and their challenges of previous theories.  Her next book focuses on Samuel Beckett.  In addition, she writes and edits several literary journals.

In Her Here Elena goes to Paris shaken by her mother’s death and hoping to accomplish research for her dissertation. There she meets Siobhan, an early friend of her own mother.  Siobhan’s daughter, Ella ran away to Thailand and has been missing for six years.  Siobhan hires Elena to “translate” the journals that Ella kept in hope that Elena can recover her daughter in a narrative even though she is still missing in reality.  Elena takes on the project, and the novel moves back and forth between Elena coping with her own troubled life in Paris and the narrative she is creating about Ella’s confused life in Thailand.   As Elena works, she increasingly fears that she is being taken over by Ella and led into madness.

Her Here is a lyrical and exciting novel, its tension focused on what happens to both women.  At the same time, the book is grounded in Dennis’s interest in phenomenology.  There is fluidity in the novel that will either appeal to readers or repel them.  Perhaps Dennis is working out in fiction some of the same themes of identity, embodiment, and the power of narrative that contemporary academic theory also addresses.

One reviewer has called Her Here an “existential detective story.” I recommend it primarily to readers who are interested in such a book.

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