The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Battacharya

Roy-Bhattacharya, Joydeep - The Watch

About 10 years ago hubby and I bought a run-down maisonette that made up the top two floors of a Victorian house, renovating it over five months before moving in. Three years later when the flat beneath came up for sale we snapped it up, did it up (spit and polish rather than a lavish refurbishment) and rented it out to cover the cost of the mortgage.

Fast forward seven years to now: mortgage repaid (just), current tenants saying they’re looking to move out in six or so months.  Timing couldn’t be better (say I) we can start the conversion back to one, big house again.  One big house (says hubby)? Never, ever, ever, no way!  Turns out what I thought was The Master Plan (it was talked about, I swear, before we bought the maisonette) had never entered hubby’s head; in fact is an idea he absolutely refuses to entertain.

If two people who have lived with and loved each other for a quarter of a century can misunderstand each other so badly, imagine the potential for crossed wires when strangers, enemies even, attempt communication across language, cultural and religious barriers.

In war-torn Afghanistan a young woman turns up outside an American base the morning after it was attacked. Her brother had led and died in the attack.

She wants to bury his body; the Captain’s orders are to fly the body to Kabul as a warning to others.

She claims to have dragged herself over the mountains with her bare hands on her makeshift cart; the soldiers’ think that’s impossible, and are afraid she’s a decoy for a second attack, or a suicide bomber.

She says her legs were blown off when her family was bombed on their way to a wedding; the Captain receives assurances from Command that the only people targeted were known insurgents.

At night the soldiers ward off the hyenas circling her cart; she sees only the searchlight keeping her awake.

In the morning she kills a lamb as a gift to offer them; they see only its throat, slit, her covered in blood.

What would you do? asks the blurb.

What should you do?

The Watch is a thoughtful, bleak novel inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone.  It’s written from seven different points of view and is wholly engaging.  Ostensibly about the tragedy of war and the victims of war (on both sides), it actually runs far, far deeper: at heart it’s the tragedy of what it means to be human, each trapped, as we all are, in our own, little narratives.

Unlike most of the books on this blog, it didn’t win a major prize, wasn’t even shortlisted, I don’t think – which just goes to show you shouldn’t always put too much store on prizes.  (Note to self.)

**** One of the best books I’ve read this year.

I liked it so much that I’ve added The Storyteller of Marrakesh, also by Roy-Battacharya, to my “to read” list.  Just as soon as I finish house-hunting….

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