Bluemoose Books is one of my favourite indie publishers and I have been reading some more of its titles over the past few weeks. Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal has recently been featured on the BBC’s books programme Between The Covers and has deservedly won plaudits for its sensitive and non-judgemental portrayal of the most marginalised groups in society. Duggal’s second novel tells the story of Jimmy Noone who is homeless in an unnamed city and has been searching for his friend, Betwa, who grew up in the local area. He is seen as a threat by Ebele, a single mother who lives with her six-year-old daughter Tuli, while her landlord and employer, Nikos, who owns a furniture shop nearby thinks he is a nuisance. Jimmy does, however, generate more compassion from their neighbour, Rayya, who is a carer for her terminally-ill husband Satish. The way in which the characters’ backgrounds are slowly revealed is very effective, emphasising that ordinary people have extraordinary stories to tell, that actions are not all that they appear to be and how people can end up on completely different paths and become invisible to the rest of society. This is a perceptive and poignant novel and I look forward to reading more of Duggal’s work.
Published just last month, Panenka by Rónán Hession follows the word-of-mouth success of Leonard and Hungry Paul which was one of my favourite books last year. For those who are not football fans, Panenka is a Czech midfielder whose name was given to a type of penalty kick which goes straight down the middle and is designed to trick the goalkeeper into diving to the side. In Hession’s second novel, Panenka is the nickname of the main protagonist, Joseph, who was a professional footballer for his local team Seneca FC until he missed a crucial penalty to save the team from relegation. Some 25 years later and now in middle age, he is still reminded on a regular basis of this event which came to be one of the most defining in his life. While it probably sounds like football is at the centre of this short novel, it is also about Panenka’s attempts to build relationships with Esther, who has suffered disappointments of her own in life, and his estranged daughter Marie-Therese and her son Arthur after she separates from her partner. As with Leonard and Hungry Paul, Hession’s empathy shines through in his writing and he is particularly good at dialogue. Special mention must also go to the front cover which is a brilliant depiction of the crippling migraines Panenka suffers from which he calls his Iron Mask, as well as his complicated feelings about his identity.
I picked up a copy of So The Doves by Heidi James, having enjoyed her most recent book The Sound Mirror a few months ago. Her 2017 novel is probably best described as a mystery story and is difficult to categorise beyond that – this is no bad thing and shows that publishers like Bluemoose Books are prepared to invest in novels that are a bit different and don’t conform to genre expectations. Marcus Murray is an investigative journalist who is surprised to be sent to cover the story that a body has been discovered in an orchard in Kent, only later realising why he has been sent to report on the type of case he now believes is a bit beneath him. Returning to the Medway town where he spent his youth, he is reminded of his friendship with Melanie Shoreham who disappeared over 20 years ago. The strand of the story set in the late 1980s when Melanie and Marcus knew each other at school was particularly compelling. The novel as a whole creates atmosphere very well, although I think The Sound Mirror has the edge in terms of narrative intricacy and control.