Culture Editor Ilina Jha reviews Ela Lee’s debut novel Jaded, praising the novel’s page-turning plot and deft handling of difficult themes

Written by Ilina Jha

Trigger Warnings for Jaded: rape, trauma, racism

It’s always exciting to read the debut work of a new author, and Jaded by Ela Lee was no exception for me. The flagship debut for the Vintage imprint of Penguin Random House this year, Jaded follows a high-flying, successful City lawyer named Jade Kaya, whose seemingly perfect life is ripped apart after a colleague rapes her. The fallout from this crime follows how Jade deals with her trauma and how the event is handled in different ways by her friends, boyfriend, parents, and law firm.

Lee brilliantly illuminates the myriad emotions and complexities that a survivor can feel

In the list of their 12 ‘most anticipated debut books of 2024,’ Penguin Random House suggests that you read Jaded if you like Michaela Coel’s TV series I May Destroy You and Suzie Miller’s play Prima Facie – both award-winning, smash-hit dramas about rape survivors battling trauma and navigating a criminal justice system that is set up to fail them. Jaded certainly continues with this theme, and Lee brilliantly illuminates the myriad emotions and complexities that a survivor can feel after they’ve been raped. Our heart goes out to Jade as she weeps; we tell her ‘No!’ as she gaslights herself into thinking that being raped was her fault; we share her anger at the failure of her company to protect her and her boyfriend’s inability to understand her. Jaded shows us how the process of remembering and coming to terms with rape is rarely simple or linear, and that this complex assemblage of evidence is no less truthful than a perfect memory of the event would be, even when the criminal justice system (and some people) do not consider it so. One of the most poignant lines in the book comes from when Jade calls a sexual assault helpline and asks:

‘I mean, how can something I don’t properly remember hurt this much?’

Our bodies remember, she said, even if our minds don’t.

Our bodies remember, even if our minds don’t’ – this will stay with me.

Another of the novel’s most well-written lines illuminates the themes of race and heritage that also run through the book: ‘Jade began as my Starbucks name, because all children of immigrants have a Starbucks name.’ As someone who also has a foreign name that many people struggle to pronounce, this line really hit home. Jade sometimes uses Korean and Turkish words and phrases to understand and articulate her experience, and I think this is a superb way of showcasing how Jade’s mixed-heritage upbringing has shaped her life and outlook.

While Lee’s writing is largely very engaging, at times I felt it could have done with some more subtlety

The plot and pacing of Jaded are overall very strong; however, some elements of the story are too quickly brushed over– for example, Jade and her mother stop speaking to each other after an argument, but their eventual reconnection is given just a few general sentences. It would have been impactful and important to show this rebuilding of the mother-daughter relationship – even just one or two conversations would have gone some way towards achieving this.

While Lee’s writing is largely very engaging, at times I felt it could have done with some more subtlety. Some moments in the book seem more like information guides reeling off facts and statistics about rape, sexual assault, and immigrant experiences, instead of mediating the truth of these facts through the narrative. The old adage of ‘Show Not Tell’ comes to mind here. Additionally, the grammar of the novel (which is written in the past tense) occasionally gets confused, leaving me to conclude that Jaded would have benefited from more editing.

Jaded is overall a compelling, page-turning, and emotional read

However, this is a good effort from first-time author Ela Lee, and Jaded is overall a compelling, page-turning, and emotional read. I think Lee has the potential to go from being a good fiction writer to an excellent one, so I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Jaded is published by Harvill Secker, an imprint within Vintage. The hardback edition was released on 8th February 2024.

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