“The Handsworth Times” is an outstanding work in every aspect. It conveys a visceral sense both of time & place with a prose style that manages to be both clear & detailed, & also stylish & unostentatiously poetic. But for all its literary qualities, the book is also gifted with fiction’s first requirements, a rattling good yarn & an engaging cast of characters, & these are again managed with consummate & effortless skill. What Jane Austen does with a backdrop of county balls & the problems faced by the daughters of the impoverished gentry, Duggal does with a backdrop of street level politics & the problems faced by the daughters of the impoverished immigrant community working class. It may be for its surface delights – the very precise delineation of Handsworth & of how awful life was for most of us under Thatcher, the immediacy of the scenes of riot & confronting fascism at street level, the carefully referenced nostalgia (always good to be reminded of Clapton refusing to apologise outright for his downright nasty racist remarks) – that the book will be initially recognised & rightly celebrated, but it is the great control, sensitivity & energy with which Duggal delivers her story, animated by the author’s inherent positivist humanity, that makes this book such a triumph.
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