Must read of the week: Ironing by Navajo

For readers seeking a read that is very much out of the ordinary while at the same time being completely about the ‘ordinary’, Ironing by debut author Navajo should be your next destination.

By Timothy Arden

Experimental fiction can be hit or miss, but when it hits with the reader than all associated challenges and perseverance required is more than rewarded.

Ironing firmly falls under the tag of experimental fiction, and has to be classed as a resounding success.

 Before anything else, though, you need to be prepared for what to expect. Some reviewers have apparently waded in without prepping for the terrain, and have found faults where, in fact, there are none.

The book is a novella that plays by its own terms, rejecting the standard linear structure or typical character progression that we usual expect from a work of fiction.

Instead, it tells multiple stories in an ultra-realistic, true-to-life fashion. Just as in life, we don’t always get the big picture; we don’t always find closure; and we don’t always hang on to every new acquaintance that we meet.

Accordingly, in Ironing you must expect characters to pop up and disappear again willy-nilly; you should be ready to be let in on fragments, sometimes overheard, of people’s lives but which never go anyway; and you need to be prepared for a story that shoots off on myriad tangents every step of the way.

Over its 128 pages, then, we come across countless characters, typically introduced to us in scenes and conversations that can involve conflict, humour or both. The story isn’t supposed to be about anyone in particular; its focus is the mundane and absurd, the weird and the wonderful, the highs and lows that together constitutes living.

In many ways, the novel is warm and touching, about family and friendship, but, again just like life itself, it also has its fair share of alarming and shocking moments too.

We begin the story with three young women — Royanda, Ginie and Emma — travelling on a London bus, heading to a greyhound race.

Author Navajo, who writes under a penname, doesn’t provide a backstory or lead-in for us, instead throwing the reader into the middle of things as they play out.

Accordingly, the language is fast and gritty, told in the present tense with no line breaks between different characters or dialogue, giving a real sense of realism and motion. You often feel you are just one seat behind the girls, listening into their conversation.

But almost as soon as it has begun, and just when we think we’re starting to get a sense of the story, another passenger randomly enters the bus, and the narrative switches to focus on them instead.

Following this pattern throughout, what we end up with are a series of vignettes — brief accounts or episodes — where the reader briefly enters into the life of somebody before passing on by again.

In this way, it is almost like a postman on his rounds overhearing exchanges on doorsteps before moving onto the next house, and another conversation with different players, motivations, and emotions.

And it works. Navajo began his own writing journey penning short stories and he has brought these skills to the table to provide engaging anecdotes, gossip, and recollections that, together, capture the essence of our daily lives as ordinary human beings.

While we may prefer to drown out the chatter of public life when out and about, slipping on the headphones to listen to a favourite album or audiobook, Ironing shows that by doing so we are missing out on a vibrant, ever-changing mosaic with just as much entertaining content on offer.

Navajo’s purpose with Ironing — a random title perfectly in keeping with the nature of the story, and the idea behind it — is to raise a mirror to reality, celebrating the minutiae which, nevertheless, still contains laughter, tears, hopes, fears, aspirations, victories, anti-climaxes and all the other experiences that is part and parcel of our daily routine.

Author Navajo prefers to remain anonymous, allowing his observations of daily life to do all the talking.

The early works of James Joyce spring to mind, especially Dubliners, where little things can say so much. We hear of a pensioner’s amorous approaches rebuffed, for instance, or a mini-meltdown in the supermarket.

Key to Ironing’s strength, I feel, is its diverse range of characters and the short, sharp scenes that are created around them that still manage to expose deeper currents influencing their opinions and attitudes.

Take this scene, for instance, where the parents of the Huefara family are arguing over who their daughter, Samira, should date, and whether he should be a white boy.

Mrs Huefara launches into an attack on her husband. “I have no idea what you are talking about. It was you who keeps saying to Samira ‘don’t marry a boy from Pakistan’ when she was seeing Hamza. And he wasn’t even from Pakistan, he was from Manchester”. “I know, but Roger? He’s not like us English, is he?”, Mr Huefara repeats. “Oh! you mean he is white?” Mrs Huefara says in disgust at her husband. Mr Huefara responds, “No, no of course not, I’m not a racist. But he’s not of our culture”.
 

Another key facet of the book is the way in which small actions turn the course of a person’s life. For instance, a scene I really enjoyed was when a character called Caitlin goes on a date and wonders whether she will be kissed; everything in her world hangs on that longed-for kiss.

This is it, Caitlin thinks, the kiss. The very moment of truth. This small minuscule act of tenderness. This connection of lip to lip... Caitlin thinks, he’s got to kiss me. If she makes that small microscopic movement the evening is a disaster, if he makes it, the evening is a triumph. So much depends on such small things.

The storyline becomes more random the further in we progress, and you can only but applaud Navajo for his commitment. For instance, we encounter a character called Doug at a train station, who is chatting happily away with his friends Alicia and Stan when a tremendous noise shakes the very foundations of the station’s platforms.

A train has hit a barrier, causing severe casualties. Like the train derailment itself, the whole scene comes out of nowhere. For a few passages, the intensity of suffering and tragedy is so overpowering that you might need to pause for breath, then the story jumps straight back to the girls meeting the greyhounds without another word.

I’m not going to spoil things concerning the girls’ eventual arrival at the racing track but let’s just say there’s another nasty surprise in story, just as random and just as shocking in its directness.


Ironing is a veritable mix of the dramatic and prosaic that constantly keeps you on your toes, just to find out what’s going to happen, or not as the case may be, next.

It takes a formidable writing talent to portray chaos in a readable form, but Navajo certainly rises to the occasion.

In fact, the strength of the writing made me wonder just what will he achieve if he tries his hand at a more conventional novel. should he so wish.

That, however, takes nothing away from Ironing, which is indiscriminate in content but distinguished in style. An experiment with startling, engrossing results.

Ironing by Navajo is out now in paperback priced at £7.77. Visit www.Bookmarksbookshop.co.uk

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