There is something extraordinary about this quiet and gently unassuming novel. The lives of two people who make shoes are set next to each other: one story follows Claire, an English factory worker who is estranged from her family after falling pregnant as a teenager; the other story is of Pawar, a South-Indian man in his later life with prostate problems and regrets who makes chappals, a kind of sandal, by hand.
The monotony of their work, and their confused relationship to it as something meditative, grounding but also binding and wearisome, is very similar. Their struggle to communicate effectively with family is also shared and yet they are different in nationality, gender and age. This is undoubtedly the reason for the title of the novel, The Living: no matter where and who we are, the fundamentals of life, relationships, work, health, connect us.
The Living is deliberately uninterested in the grand narrative and yet, precisely because of this, ends up saying something rather beautiful about the realities of daily living that many great epics fail to communicate. It may be short, and it may seem simple – some would say it’s an easy read – but this clarity of narrative, that quietly nudges the reader to cogitate and unpick and question, is surprisingly difficult to create.
The Living is a delightful gem of a novel that I will definitely continue to think about. Anjali Joseph is clearly a very talented writer and I look forward to reading her other published novels and her future work.
The Living is published by Fourth Estate this March.
Next week I’m reading We’ve come to take you Home by Susan Gandar.