Introducing an unforgettable heroine for our times, Nina de la Mer’s bold and unflinching novel captures the mood of an urban generation, seduced by celebrity and fuelled by drink, drugs and pornography.
Read first chapter
Arriving in London, Hayleigh finds work as lap dancer ‘Layla’, intent on earning enough cash to make a fresh start. She has the wit, the looks and skilful moves, exploiting men before they can exploit her. But over the course of a chaotic week she must make the biggest decision of her life and fight for the one thing she truly wants.
This is a brilliant and moving novel, imaginatively powerful and authentically conceived. Thirty years after the resounding success of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, and written in a similarly intense second-person narrative, Layla speaks for a new generation.
Nina de la Mer is also the author of 4 a.m.
One Woman’s Thoughts22 April 2014
Honest, harsh, gripping, funny... De La Mer has a significant talent when it comes to the language her characters use, they become whole and either beloved or detestable in moments; we get that first impression feeling with them all. This is what holds this tale in place, a believability and an unwavering commitment to bringing a humanity to Layla that remains throughout. This is a 5 star novel, it will hold you - it will force you to finish it in a sitting and it will stay with you - Layla herself stays with you and that doesn’t often happen, only the best books do this. A must read.View source
Pamreader3 April 2014
Nina de la Mer has a truly unique perspective and a gift for writing with insight, humour, sensitivity and a raw edgy sense of authenticity.View source
Leslie McDowell, Herald
The energy and realism that characterised de la Mer's debut, 4 a.m., is taken up a seemingly impossible few notches in this perceptive and forceful tale... The second-person narrative is also more than experimental, suiting well the sense of menace that pervades Hayleigh's night-time world.View source
Hayleigh’s not a perfect heroine, but she is gutsy and worth rooting for. De la Mer also grasps the darkness of the city at night.View source
Sarah Mathewson, OBJECT
A really compelling read... the style reflected the whirlwind of Hayleigh’s life – fast-paced, constantly moving from one chaotic episode or memory to the next... the emotional and psychological impact of the industry were also painfully evoked... As with real life testimonies, [Layla] acknowledged that women’s feelings about and experiences of lap dancing are often complex and mixed, and a bleak picture emerged more gradually, in a poignant way.View source
A gripping and gritty slice of London noir on a par with Hamilton’s Hangover Square or Kersh’s Night and the City, but with a lot more heart.View source
Were James Kelman ever to write about the red light district it might feel something like this powerful book. The unforgettable character of Layla, in all her complexity, finds her way into your heart and your head. De la Mer, full of integrity and honesty, stares at the sex industry without blinking, and in doing so has suddenly become a vital British novelist.
An authentic work of modern feminism... [Layla] is a character who penetrates deep and leaves a lasting impression, as does de la Mer.View source
Layla is an extremely well written and original novel. It is delicately structured with layers of meaning and Hayleigh is a true modern-day heroine for young women in this situation. Although you only see a week of Hayleigh’s life you feel intimately connected with her and even if you disagree with some of her decisions you can’t help but feel compassion for her. Nina de la Mer proves herself to be a true talent with this gritty, urban fairytale.View source
Layla packed a punch and didn’t hold back in the slightest. Nina de la Mer’s novel is gritty and visceral... a cracking read.View source
Books n’ that
What makes Layla unique is that the second person point of view really puts you inside Hayleigh’s skin... Seeing through her eyes, being her, as she was pawed at, threatened and even hit by all the user men around her left me shaken... And just when the male fantasy of swooping in and saving her from that life started to form in my head, Hayleigh came out with a few choice words of criticism... What we have here is that rare thing: a novel that at some point stops being a novel and becomes an experience.View source
Nina de la Mer’s second novel drops you right into the heart of Soho’s lap dancing scene... in a second-person narrative so immersive you can practically smell the baby oil... you’re swept along by the vivacity and personality of the incident-prone protagonist, with a voice that’ll stick in your head after you’ve finished reading.View source
Scots Whay Hae!
Layla is a triumph as a novel, and as a character. It's not always an easy read, and nor should it be... Layla is an honest and powerful depiction of the life of a woman who finds her self in an all too believable situation. Where such a novel could have been judgemental and patronising, Nina de la Mer finds empathy and emotion, so much so that you won't be able to put it down until you have to say goodbye.View source
Written in the second person, which is perfect for this self-searching novel in which the protagonist is standing back to examine the highs and lows of her life... a brilliant novel, gripping and engaging from the first page and cannot be praised too highly: talented writing; brilliant characterisation; a wonderful story of our time. This is a ‘must read’.View source
For Books’ Sake
The story unfolds day-by-day over a tumultuous week, with the present tense conveying a palpable urgency. The second-person narrative has an almost confrontational tone, drawing ‘you’, the reader, into Layla’s chaotic world... Each chapter reads like a diary entry, punctuated by unanswered messages gathering dust in Hayleigh’s inbox. These cryptic texts denote a gulf between what Hayleigh chooses to reveal, and what she keeps hidden – and these omissions can be as telling as the fragments we are allowed to see... [For] lovers of Brit Lit with added grit.View source
Compelling commentary on fantasy versus reality in the sex industry... The hooker with a heart of gold may be something of a cliché in movies, but de la Mer has elevated Hayleigh’s story to something much more literary. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Layla is a new Tess of the d’Urbervilles for our time.View source
The Puffin Review
'Adopting a second person perspective, de la Mer captures perfectly the detachment and alienation Hayleigh feels at the world she inhabits. Fatally flawed, self-loathing, and yet aware of her shortcomings, Hayleigh's humanity shines through, her trials possess real meaning, and you yearn for her to succeed. Wider social commentary is also handled deftly by de la Mer.View source
Herald, Books of the Year
Scottish fiction of the year for me is Brighton-based Nina de la Mer's hypnotising Layla.View source