Reza is the bard of bourgeois, neoliberal angst ... Reza is fascinated by what almost always remains unsaid ... Babylon is darker and more mysterious than the plays that have brought her the most renown; the flat affect of [protagonist] Elisabeth’s narration recalls that of Meursault, in Camus’s The Stranger ...'People who think there’s some orderly system to life—they’re lucky,' Elisabeth reflects. Any reader who begins with such a belief will have it overturned by the end of Reza’s haunting little tale.
As there are pages of nothing but dialogue batted back and forth between characters, and all the action is essentially confined to the apartment block, this could easily be one of Reza’s plays, but she also draws on the novel-form’s richer resources to indicate relationships outside the scope of the story’s action, and to pursue a theme about the haunting power of old photographs. The lightness of touch bordering on comedy that she brings to an otherwise dark tale is a reminder of her strengths as a dramatic writer, and it all adds up to a strange and memorable short book.
Babylon...gives away its story early and belongs to that very popular category of books that use techniques of the thriller and mystery genre in what is essentially a character study ... in Babylon, Reza attempts to elevate what her characters experience in their limited domestic sphere to a universal tale about how certain fears unite and drive us toward inexplicable acts. It is this push for universality that makes the novel hypnotic, often poetic, but also uneven ...The question Reza raises through Babylon is how are ordinary people pushed to inconceivable acts of violence (in Jean Lino’s case) and stupidity (in Elisabeth’s) ... It is unclear whether Reza is consciously trying to warn us against Elisabeth’s predilection to romanticize the past, or rather is using it as a tool to remind us that youth, and life in general, are fleeting. To what extent then, is Elisabeth a foil for the author herself?
It's a somewhat odd narrative, in the way Elisabeth's account swirls around, lapping out into bits and pieces (and photographs) from the past, while the crime itself is almost pathetic (and the victim then presented as barely more than an object). Reza is at her best in the asides, the easy summing up of lives—and life slipping away—and the awkwardness of human interactions. The balance—with actual murder—is a bit harder to strike, but in teasing out what happened, and the small twists that then follow, Babylon is reasonably successful. Not quite a thriller, Reza's more melancholy-philosophical speculation on the human condition is still quite well done and entertaining.