Thank you to Kevin at Bluemoose Books for this proof copy of Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal, my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.
Jimmy Noone escapes his difficult life in a small town and finds himself living on the streets of a big city where he meets Betwa, who brings with her a chance of real friendship and a glimpse of new hope. Betwa disappears and Jimmy walks across the sprawling metropolis searching for her.
He arrives on Shifnal Road on the other side of the river where people from all over the world live side by side yet some inhabitants are so isolated they seem to have disappeared altogether. Jimmy becomes the catalyst for their lives colliding.
Journeys to the street and to the city are retraced, so too are stories abundant with lost dreams, unrivalled friendship, profound love and stifling grief, each underpinned with the subtle threads of commonality which intersect them all.
Should We Fall Behind is about the passing of time, and the intricate weaves of joy and suffering, love and loss which shape human life along the way. It is about the people who have somehow become invisible, and how their stories make them visible once more.
2020 is my year of reading books by new authors and from new publishers, aided by being furloughed from work at the moment. I’m so pleased that I have been able to discover the writing of Sharon Duggal and will be looking to read more books published by Bluemoose Books.
Jimmy is a young man who has travelled far from home seeking a new life but is currently homeless. Meeting Betwa encourages him to open up about how he ended up where he is, so when she goes missing, he starts to look for her.
As Jimmy looks for Betwa, he meets Rayya at Shifnal Road, who looks after him with food parcels and other home comforts. Rayya left India many years ago with her husband Satish, who is now lost in his own world. Rayya would have loved to become a mother and reflects on this.
Next door to Rayya there are two flats. Upstairs, Tuli (age 6) lives with her mother, Ebele. Tuli wants her mother to stick to her promises about going outside and to have a warm home, like their downstairs neighbour Grandy (aka Grace and Mandy). Tuli enjoys spending time with Grace (who has chocolate) and being allowed into their garden. Her mother struggles to trust people, especially men.
Ebele’s flat on Shinfal Road is owned by her employer, Cypriot born Nikos Makrides, who owns the furniture shop. His wife died recently and his children are living thousands of miles away in Canada. His uncle was a good friend to Rayya and Satish. He employs Daban, who has worked as a carer for Satish and met Jimmy when working as a pub doorman.
I enjoyed how Sharon Duggal slowly drip fed information about each of the main characters, about their past and their present situations, so that the reader can start to understand how they ended up so lost and lonely. As I started the book, I found myself making judgements about characters which changed totally during the course of the book – a timely reminder that we should never make snap judgements, but should look at the full picture.
As the story develops, the lives of the main characters become more interwoven and the neighbours are suddenly visible to each other. This story is full of tragedy and heartbreak, of lost loves and opportunities, but also gives the characters the chance to slowly move forward, to try to stop history repeating itself and to allow others to help.
I’ve read a wide mixture of books in 2020, but this is one that will stay with me for a long time. I work for a social mobility charity and this is a timely reminder about how we need to ensure that the young people we work with aren’t allowed to become invisible. In this era of Instagram influencers and the strange obsession with celebrities, this book reminds us about the real lives not being edited by photo filters. A 5 star read for this reader.
Sharon Duggal’s acclaimed 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. Her second novel, Should We Fall Behind, is published by Bluemoose Books, Oct 2020.