Today I’m thrilled to review an excellent new novel by Katharine d’Souza. Katharine kindly sent me a review copy on Kindle in exchange for a fair and frank review – I was happy to do so, as I very much enjoyed her earlier novels, “Park Life” and “Deeds not Words“, and not just because they’re set in my home city of Birmingham. Being set somewhere you know is an added bonus, not a prerequsite, and it has to be done RIGHT, too, doesn’t it, otherwise there’s nothing more calculated to put you off. So I’m glad to say, this is done right, and adds a lovely touch to a book that anyone, however, would enjoy reading.
Katharine d’Souza – “No Place”
(acquired July 2016, from the author)
It’s just Tanya, Geena and their dad now, since Mum died a decade ago, in a traditional 1930s semi decorated throughout with Royal Wedding memorabilia and Union flags because when Mum and Dad arrived in Birmingham, they decided to cut off from their past entirely and embrace Britishness wholeheartedly. Tanya and Geena have grown up with no religion, trips to National Trust houses and places of British interest and very little sense of their Sikh and Indian identities, leaving Tanya, at least, to feel she has no place, no roots, anywhere.
When their dad is at the receiving end of some nasty, but essentially fairly low-level, racism (he’s not physically hurt), he seems to suddenly panic then withdraw, trying belatedly to control the lives his daughters have been living quite freely and normally for years, worrying about where they are and who they’re seeing. Tanya’s colleague at the hospital might have some answers, but things are complicated when Tanya meets a new man (she doesn’t go in for many relationships, so this is new for everyone) and Geena starts working hard to prove herself and further her career after making a mistake in her personal life.
What happened to make their dad so jumpy all of a sudden? Why does nobody talk about life before Birmingham – do they have family ‘back home’ or is this all the home they have? Will Tanya ever stop being so responsible and learn to spread her wings a little, or will she sit in her childhood room forever, tracking aircraft but hardly ever looking out of the window?
The research the author has obviously done on both the cultural and work backgrounds is worn lightly, rare in a world where it’s so easy to shoehorn everything you know into a book. Her writing style is more muscular here and the whole is more self-assured and confident than in her previous books. The themes are timely, looking at culture, belonging and race, but again never laboured. There are lovely side characters – Geena’s boss and Tanya’s colleague – and a perfect ending that made me well up a little.
This book will suit … People who like reading fairly gentle books about family relationships and people changing as they grow older – it’s not whiffly or silly, but you don’t get hit with any horrible punches of nastiness or sudden unpleasant scenes, which isn’t to say your heart won’t be in your mouth at times. People in Birmingham, and people beyond the city!