heaven_ali (heaven_ali) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

#125 Park Life - Katharine D'Souza (2012)

I have been attending some local meet up events where local and even not so local writers come along and discuss their work with us. So far it is a fairly small group, but is growing and I have been enjoying it immensely. Recently local self-published author Katherine D’Souza came to tell us about her novel Park Life, the difficulty she had finding a publisher and her journey to becoming self-published. Katherine herself described her novel as “contemporary fiction” and being not dissimilar to Mike Gayle. This places her novel a little outside my usual reading field. However Park Life is set in South Birmingham, where I live, (one reason apparently that Katherine found it hard to get a publisher) and so that alone made me want to read it.

Two different and quite distinct narrators tell their stories in Park Life: Craig, an ambitious twenty-five year old and forty year old Susan just arrived from the countryside a refugee from her marriage, with little idea of what she’ll do next.

“The sun shone as I left the flat this morning with my partially completed application forms in a carrier bag. I didn’t button my mac and lifted my face to the light as I walked to the bus stop. I almost allowed myself to feel optimistic.
As I took a deep breath to fortify me, I got a gulp of exhaust fumes and began to cough. Petite ladies shrouded head to foot in black turned to look and gathered small children to them as I spluttered. Surely they weren’t afraid of me? But, as I looked around, it was obvious I was the one who looked out of place. No one stopped to ask if I was OK. I dropped my head and hurried to the stop. While I waited, I was careful not to look into the broken windows of the abandoned industrial building behind me. I’m sure the only movement behind the jagged edges of the glass was pigeons enjoying a well-appointed roost. I just didn’t want to look too closely.”

Soon Susan has a job in a Kings Heath café, has made friends with her next door neighbour Craig and begun to look into the business of dissolving her marriage. Her eighteen-year-old son away at university – is furious with her, and Susan is left feeling like the bad guy. Susan has more big decisions to make when her estranged husband is injured in a car accident. Craig meanwhile makes a life-changing discovery, and has a lot of decisions to make about how he deals with that, his attraction to his boss and the changing fortunes of the company that he works for. These two quite different people find they are able to help one another – and strike up a nice friendship.

Birmingham is sympathetically and accurately reproduced – and I so enjoyed being able to picture the sitting so clearly, even the buses are right. The people of Birmingham are an eclectic mix – and this is faithfully reproduced in this novel, the voices are recognisably modern and realistic. The situations that these engaging characters find themselves in are very current, the kind of concerns anyone can imagine themselves in. I liked these characters so much; that I can imagine hearing more of them in the future (although I know the author has no plans for a sequel so far) Sometimes Birmingham is not very good at shouting about what a great city this is – it is a great city! So I love the fact that this novel celebrates South Birmingham in a realistic and positive way. I am sure many readers will enjoy this novel – no matter where they live, but dwellers of South Birmingham will love spending time behind the hallowed gates of Moseley Park, strolling through Cannon Hill, bussing it along the Moseley Road and taking tea in a (fictional) café in Kings Heath.

Park Life is a nice light entertaining read; I enjoyed the setting so much and couldn’t help but come to care about these characters. I particularly like Susan – who is about my age – and worried about her a good deal – I really had to keep on reading earlier today to find out how things would pan out for her.

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