Author: Indrajit Garai
Self Published in 2022
Review by Miriam Atkinson
The Man Without Shelter follows two protagonists. Arnault, wrongly convicted of a crime, has just been released from prison after twenty years. With the world he knew changed and nowhere to go, Arnault finds himself drifting between migrant tent towns – determined to protect the people within them whilst also rebuilding his life. Lucy is a young lawyer and socially is a world away from Arnault despite the pair both living in Paris. After Lucy crosses paths with Arnault she focuses on helping him as well as others who are in need.
I did find The Man Without Shelter curiously difficult to place into a specific genre. The story doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. Instead the novel is primarily a social commentary with elements of a legal drama.
Set in present day France, Indrajit Garai’s novel shines an unflinching light on Paris’ homelessness and immigration issues. It gives those of us not from France an insight into the overly cautious world of a post-terror attacked Paris. While extreme measures are entirely understandable some appear to do more harm than good. The Man Without Shelter highlights one particular measure where a person needs to have formal identification in order to survive and thrive yet people without a fixed abode, e.g. homeless, cannot get ID. It was both fascinating and saddening to learn that there are people trapped in a broken system through no fault of their own.
Garai’s novel shows his reader how fragile life is. Although the book is set in France I know the fears of the ordinary Parisians in the story will echo with many people across many countries. The current financial and cost of living crises experienced by so many of us have shown how people could lose everything due to matters far beyond most of our control. Yet despite the trouble experienced by the main characters the novel ends, perhaps not on a hopeful note but a determined one. Of people determined to help each other and find, even a small way, of making life better.
The story itself moves along at a good pace and at only 122 pages the novel is a short read. I enjoyed seeing Garai combine the two very different characters and societies of Arnault and Lucy. From a narrative point of view I thought it did make sense when their stories met (and almost met again in the latter half of the novel).
My only critique would be that when the story describes the problems facing Lucy’s law firm no nouns are used which was sometimes confusing to keep track of. The companies involved are simply referred to as: ‘this law firm’, ‘that business’, ‘a certain American bank’. I understand why Garai wouldn’t feel comfortable using the names of real businesses in his work but I feel if fictional names had been used it would have made certain paragraphs easier to follow. I also think many readers would still be able to understand who or what Garai was alluding to with these fictional names.
Overall I liked the novel and, of Garai’s works that I’ve read, this is my current favourite. While not typically a genre/style I dip into, I did enjoy the very believable real-life snapshot the author was able to capture and share with his readers. The novel definitely had its eye-opening social moments.
A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Estelle, a friend of the author. You can find more information about Indrajit and his works on Estelle’s website.
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