A BBC 2 Between The Covers Book Club Choice
Jimmy Noone walks from one side of a sprawling city to the other, looking for Betwa, a friend he found and lost on the bustling city streets. Jimmy becomes the catalyst for lost lives colliding, exposing stories of tenderness, devotion, displacement and tragedy, and the subtle threads of commonality which intersect them all, making the invisible, visible again.
What a beautiful book! Full of wonderful characters who have been brought together in this story as Jimmy Noone travels across part of a large city looking for Betwa.
Jimmy met Betwa when sleeping rough and they had become friends. She left to return to the place she grew up but never came back to Jimmy who, missing her and worried about her, decides to look for her. Not knowing exactly where to find Betwa, Jimmy goes on his journey with a few clues and a little hope.
When he arrives at the place he hopes he will find Betwa he camps out in an abandoned car on some wasteland. As Jimmy searches we meet wonderful characters that will touch Jimmys life as he will theirs.
Characters such as Tuli a child who escapes into her imagination in order to cope with her life. Ebele, Tuli’s mother, has become weary and somewhat bitter of what life has become. Working for Nikos in his furniture store, which used to be owned by his uncle Kostas, she lives from one pay day to the next in a flat which is also owned by Nikos. Her neighbour is Grace a teacher who lives with her partner, Mandy. Next door is Mrs Rayya Banu who is caring for her husband Satish, he has Alzheimer’s and is bed ridden. They live on or near Shifnal Road. Then there’s Daban who was once a carer for Satish but now works for Nikos as a delivery driver. Nikos himself has a story, of great losses but also of love.
We get a picture of life as a homeless person in the opening of the book and through Jimmy’s journey looking for Betwa. We also learn of Jimmy’s life before he became homeless. The loss of his mother in childbirth when he and his brother, Ant, where so young and that had such an impact on his family.
We learn about these characters why and how some of them came to live in the U.K., what happened over the years to bring them to the place they now are – geographically and emotionally – we see how they interact, how they perceive themselves and each other. We see how unkind, even cruel, people can be albeit unwittingly. We see how helpful, thoughtful and kind people can be even when their own situations are so very difficult.
This is the beauty of Sharon Duggal’s writing that in this quite short book she has spread out before us humanity at it’s most vulnerable, given us a glint of hope and an understanding that if we treat each other with kindness the world would truly be a wonderful place. As the saying goes ‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.’ Here Duggal figuratively allows us to do just that in this wonderful and moving story.
I hope this book is widely read. That it is used to open up discussion – cultural, family, colour, sexual orientation, race, gender, age and more – on so many things, not all touched upon in the book but equally valid, and bring a deeper, kinder, richer understanding of each other that will allow us all to live together in peace, happiness and contentment. This book should be on the shelves of every library, on book club lists, in school libraries. It should be read and discussed throughout the U.K. and beyond. I would most certainly recommend it.
Well that’s my ninth review done! This one was on my original list. Just three reviews to catch up on. So twelve books read, eight to go!
Published: Bluemoose Books (22 Oct. 2020)
Sharon Duggal grew up in Birmingham as part of a large Indian family. Her debut novel, The Handsworth Times (2016) was The Morning Star’s Fiction Book of the Year 2016 and Brighton City Reads 2017. Her short stories appear in anthologies including The Book of Birmingham and Love Bites: Fiction Inspired by Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks. Her second novel, Should We Fall Behind was published in October 2020 by independent small press, Bluemoose Books to wide critical acclaim – it was chosen as a Prima Magazine Book of the Year 2020, selected as one of 6 new titles to be featured on BBC TV book club, Between the Covers, broadcast in May 2021 and shortlisted for the prestigious RSL Encore Award 2021 for best second novel.
Sharon is one half of long-running The Ruben and Sharon Show, the UK’s only regular radio show with a mum and son presenter team, which plays out weekly, live on FM. DAB and online via Brighton’s Radio Reverb. She has an MA from City University and an MPhil for University of Sussex.
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