The simple sweetness of being hungover and not able to think; the sadness as the electric lights come on and the air holds the smell of dhoop and wood smoke; the way a funeral can feel like a film premiere; the way certain words – beer garden, holiday home – tell you you’re meant to be having a good time; the way a catastrophe removes that terrible sadness children feel on a cloudy summer day looking at line of trees waiting just waiting for something to happen.
Feelings so common, so universal, that they are rarely thought about are, in this superb novel, given centre stage, described with great accuracy, lyrical beauty and heartbreaking poignancy.
They are felt by two characters. Claire is a single mum working in one of England’s last remaining shoe factories in Norwich. Her life hasn’t worked out quite as she hoped. Arun is an elderly Indian man who still makes chappals by hand. A recovering alcoholic, he is settling into old age. A novel about dying industries, families and ordinary life, THE LIVING reveals the often overlooked beauty in our everyday vocabulary and everyday life.
Reviews of The Living
‘An extraordinary portrait of two lives that moves between Norwich and smalltown India poses fundamental questions about existence … The Living asks, with a great, moving, unostentatious urgency, and a groundswell that remains with you long after you’ve read it, a question that probably only the novel, as a form, can ask: how do these moments and events add up to “our” life, and what is it in our awareness that leads to this sense of ownership, especially when awareness is extinguished recurrently at night, or with drunkenness or fatigue? How, on waking, do these memories and lacerations once more become our own? Joseph’s is a deep and unusual talent; she attends to questions for which not every novelist is equipped. The Living is an exceptional, unexpected work’ Amit Chaudhuri, Guardian
‘This is the award-winning Joseph’s third novel and its restraint, precision and assurance confirm that she is a rare talent’ Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
‘Rather like a Dardenne Brothers or Ken Loach film … The moment in itself is forever charged by complexity and sometimes, no small amount of wonder … This third novel is her most satisfying and accomplished, speaking its wisdom in whispers’ Arifa Akbar, Independent
‘The novel is best when excavating inner lives, and the most satisfying scenes deal with characters’ seething discontent with life’ Anita Sethi, Observer
‘A beautiful and profound book that distils, with uncanny precision and truthfulness, the flow and movement of inner lives deep under the surface of things. Joseph has dug at one of the hardest spots in the terrain of form and come up with a luminous and rare jewel’ Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others