Hebden Bridge publishers Bluemoose Books has dedicated 2020 to showcasing the work of female authors.
Brighton writer Sharon Duggal is one of those.
Her second novel – Should We Fall Behind is a story of the forgotten, the ordinary and the invisible, and how their lives slowly become entwined. With characters less often seen in fiction – the homeless; single mothers; immigrants – the novel is refreshing, normalising the ‘different’ without sensation.
Tiny actions the characters make become fronds that reach out and twist them together, altering the course of their lives. These strangers cannot know what impact they have; nor can they know that behind the faces they have judged are lives more similar than imagined. Should We Fall Behind is a story of loneliness and connection; difference and similarity, despair and hope.
Jimmy meets Betwa on the streets. She is refreshing in her innocence, still smelling of clean washing and warm houses. The two bond quickly; Jimmy feeling the near-lost tenderness of human contact once again. She goes missing, prompting Jimmy to search for her; for that connection and the future she represents.
His journey to find her begins to weave its way through the lives of the other characters and each become involved in his. Chapter by chapter Duggal tells us their history and so we see behind their actions: the frightened single mother who is intent of having Jimmy moved on from his temporary sleeping place is not nasty but scared; the store owner who kicks Jimmy as he shelters in the doorway is angry and hurt by his own experiences and failures. We understand the kindnesses too; childless Rayya cares for her disabled husband and in feeding Jimmy she finds fulfilment. We are reminded that each of us has a story to tell.
Duggal is unflinching in her descriptions: the stench of Jimmy’s subway existence; the bitterness; the abuse– the characters are not perfect, not even easy to like; but they are unerringly human. From the darkness of their interior lives, these strangers occasionally step out, and when they touch another, we feel it too. Such is Duggal’s prose that we live their lives darkly and deeply with them and so feel the hope in these fleeting connections. These moments are exquisitely acute; a tiny glimpse of light and the suggestion there is something more, something better ahead.
Should We Fall Behind humanises the faceless and gives voice to those muted by circumstance. For this, it is important. It is also a rich novel – harsh and tender and full. These ugly, ordinary lives are made beautiful by Duggal; in her language and by their truth. We are left moved, and reminded that this is a book ultimately about us, not them.Should We Fall Behind published by bluemoosebooks.com is available now at Waterstones.com as well as other retailers