Book Review: And What We Can Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed2 min read
She’s young and she’s pretty and she’s dead but she’s not a fool.
Premee Mohamed’s gorgeous, sensory novella And What Can We Offer You Tonight is a poetic story about exploitation, stolen histories, and friendship.
In a city where the rich control every aspect of life and only chipped workers, who have some value to the rich, are somewhat safe, to be unemployed is to become prey. Jewel has given up what little freedom she had, even her true name, to be a courtesan in the House of Bicchieri, which provides her with healthcare, clean air, and a sense of security. Beyond her gilded cage is the chaos of the city, where the canals are choked with trash and only the lucky survive.
The story opens at a secret funeral in a mossy, abandoned church. The deceased is Winfield, one of Jewel’s courtesan friends, who was murdered by a client. However, Winfield has no intention of staying dead, and a murdered woman has only one thing on her mind: revenge.
Winfield, the undead vigilante, is the true star of the novella, but we experience the story through Jewel, who provides a more layered POV. Jewel has learned to play it safe to survive, but now she has to deal with the consequences of every impulsive move Win makes. She is forced to not only examine her own cowardice but also to constantly balance her sense of self-preservation and security against what’s right for her community and her righteous friend.
Why can I not be as brave and careless as her? (Because I am alive, because I am still alive.)
The narrative is told from a close psychic distance to Jewel, her thoughts flowing breathlessly into run-on sentences when she’s exhausted or excited. It gives some sections an almost feverish intensity and lyrical rhythm.
The world is full of contrasts, with the perfumed, manicured, and controlled luxuries of the House of Bicchieri versus the stench, chaos, and decay of the city beyond. Scenes of darkness and horror are interrupted by moments of beauty, love, and funny banter between characters who use humor as a coping mechanism. The humor is part of what makes the characters feel so realistic, like people you’d meet in any workplace in our world, where the oppression, control, and exploitation are just as real and familiar.
There is law but it does not apply to everyone, and that itself is enshrined in law. The law says: Only you and you. Not you. People could not fight it when it happened, not merely because fighting it was outlawed but because they were too hungry and too ill and there was simply no recourse; because if you had to choose between a fight you could win, and trying to feed yourself and your family, you made the choice. An easy one. I had done it, growing up. Most of us have.
And What We Can Offer You Tonight is a powerful read: a short and beautifully written story about injustice, the things we must do out of necessity, and friends banding together to survive dark times.
We have nothing to love but each other.