The Living is the first of Anjali Joseph’s books I have read, despite her previous offerings Saraswati Park and Another Country coming highly recommended. As a result, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from it, and having read it I am not entirely sure what to tell you about it.
The Living tells two stories, in alternate sections, of two very different people on opposite sides of the world. Claire is a single mother in her 30s who works in a shoe factory in England. Arun is a shoemaker in India, a grandfather and a recovering alcoholic. The only ‘spoiler’ I will give you is that these stories are not connected. It’s best you don’t spend your time looking for when the stories overlap/collide, and instead enjoy each on their own merits.
“Over time you get used to the unknown areas of the person you live with. They become familiar, or that’s what you think.”
Claire is in the middle of a life shaped by a decision made when she was just a teenager; Arun is drawing to the end of a life handcrafting chappals in a world being taken over by machine production. There are no huge dramas here – Claire attends her father’s funeral, tries to decide exactly how she feels about two different men, thinks back on the estranged father of her son. Arun attends his niece’s wedding, spends time with his family, and reflects on his former mistress. The curtain rises at a given moment in their lives and drops again without any pat resolution – this is a book about living, not about distorting the experience of living into narrative convention.
The rich interior lives of the protagonists, in all the often mundane detail that make up the average day in the average life, control the pace here – only a certain type of reader will like this book. If you are drawn to action filled plots – this is not the book for you. However, if you enjoy thoughtful meditations on the daily actions, decisions and moments looking backwards that make living what it is; if you have ever wondered what are the legacies of small lives – The Living is both well written and just what you are looking for.
The Living is published by HarperCollins Fourth Estate and is available in bookstores now. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.