Behind the postcard imagery of London, the darkest parts of the city house some of the saddest stories.
When Michael met Cameron, they were two boys who shared a bond and a ledge, an escape from their turbulent and violent home lives. But when Michael leaves, their lives drift apart into dramatically different directions until the events of the past bring them back together. They are no longer boys, but the ledge remains. Can they save themselves? Can they save one another?
This raw debut from Daniel James is a literary fiction that delves into fragile friendships, social inequality and mental health.
Readers of a sensitive disposition, look away now. The list of topics covered by this book makes for brutal reading: domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, misogyny, racism, poverty, depression…I could go on. However, regular readers of my blog (hi both) will know I am not one to shy away from a challenging read, and as long as everyone is happy that I have provided sufficient trigger warnings, I’m going to tell you why I am so glad I did not swerve from this one.
This is much more than a ‘sliding doors’ story of two boys starting from the same point and heading off on different trajectories. While it is true that Michael “gets out,” escaping the cycle of poverty and getting a job in the City, leaving Cameron behind, the scars of their upbringings are impossible for either to escape. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of what it means to come from a “broken home,” a cliché that is all too often tossed around without considering the full and tragic implications.
The author sticks closely to the two protagonists’ points of view, so closely that, especially in the case of Cameron, it is often deeply uncomfortable to be inside his head. And yet, this discomfort serves a purpose beyond shock value: his violent tendencies, his misogyny, his growing racist views, stoked by the people he meets and the circumstances he feels trapped in, are not presented as a damning indictment of his nature. Rather, he is a product of everything he has lived and suffered, and, as difficult as it is to read about domestic abuse from the point of view of both the victim and the perpetrator, the message of how the cycle will turn relentlessly until the underlying issues of poverty and privation are addressed is a profound, and profoundly relevant, one.
Even Michael, while he manages to distance himself physically from his past, carries the hurt and the trauma within him. The scene where he sees Cameron, now homeless, is incredibly powerful on its own, and in the light of what follows it is almost unbearably so. The parallels between the boys, set up in the title and echoing throughout the book, are not so much designed to evoke the “there but for the grace of…” cliché, but something even more powerful: Michael is Cameron, both boys are a product of the warped society they live in: the damage it has done them is unforgiveable.
The style of the narrative is striking: James writes with eloquence and an attention to detail which illuminates the corners of the city many of us would rather not examine too closely. The South London accents are mimicked convincingly in the dialogue, and I really enjoyed the contrast between the articulate thoughts of the men and their brief, staccato utterances – so much left unsaid, so many swirling thoughts that cannot find release. It is a very clever depiction of the mental anguish suffered by both men, but it works particularly well for Cameron.
This is far from an easy read, but it is an important one. I was forced into contemplating a lot of uncomfortable truths about the liberal views I hold so dear: my horror and distaste for Cameron’s misogyny and racism gradually giving way to a deep, deep sadness that the experiences of his life have shown him no other way to be or to think. The Same Ledge is a brave experiment in pushing the boundaries of empathy to their limits, taking us inside the truth of what it means to live on the edges. This is a book that interrogates our society in an absolutely uncompromising way, and explores some of the reasons for the deep divisions we see all around us. It is a bold, challenging, distressing look at a reality we ignore at our peril.
About the Author:
Daniel James is a London born writer residing in Toronto at the release of his debut novel. Daniel draws upon his own life experiences as a Londoner to create a descriptive account of life in the city, exploring issues of inequality and the pressures on the human spirit blended naturally into one story.
Daniel uses modern day themes and explores complex issues that revolve around mental health, relationships and societal class, issues that have impacted his life in one way or another. The need to captivate and highlight these themes are the inspiration behind his writing. He hopes you connect and enjoy the story in your own way.
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2S2RaDd
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2EDDknx
Published in digital and paperback formats by Lulu.com on 29th May 2020