A debut novel from a skilled and observant writer, The Study Circle is a work of fiction which offers an alternative look at urban Britain. Mariah Feria reviews the book’s timely and important themes, which discusses the representation of a community that is so often one-dimensionally shown.
Set in a tower block within South London’s Muslim community, The Study Circle by Haroun Khan (published October 2018 by Dead Ink Books) combines old and new thought to create a realistic, yet often unheard,
We follow the lives of Shams and Ishaq, two distant friends who are reunited during a time of escalating troubled relationships between their faith, and the rest of the country. With an upcoming EDL march and increased external interest in their Muslim study group, the story is set in the present day, raising questions of belonging, traditionalism and community.
The main characters of Ishaq and Shams are what drive the entire novel. Each is simply surviving in this chaotic community, fuelled by outside influences and a desire to belong yet remain unique. We journey through the novel as both young men begin to understand how and what it means to be a young person of faith in present-day London. Ishaq must decide whether or not to denounce the traditional life in his tower block and continue onto ‘better’ things. While Shams begins to forge a life of paranoia and crime which he isn’t entirely sure of.
The book felt at times like a guidebook to everyday British Muslim lives. The conversations between Ishaq and his university peers at a rally on the campus, representing all sides of the argument, are particularly insightful. Ishaq debates with his own community, and then continues his discontent with an outburst at a lecture shortly after. He’s finding place in the arguments, and showing readers that the discussions are not as straightforward, or collective, as others initially may think.
The plot progresses through these unique voices, and each character is well considered. A personal
The stand-out scene is the conversation between Ayub and the converted white Muslim, Adam. Through a few pages, we get raw emotion and uncover their hidden lives. We feel the desperation yet continued stoicism of Ayub, his need to remain grounded after everything he has seen – “We’re hated and it’s tough, but it’s a good forced-reminder. It compels us to remember our identity and think about the reality of our situation…forgetting is destruction, annihilation at our own hands or others. Always remember. Even if it is painful.” Adam sums up the changing tone of the country in just a sentence, saying others used to view him as “The eccentric English convert with a big beard. But with the climate now…nowadays…people I’ve known for years don’t look at me the same.”
This conversation takes place inside another major character in the novel: the tower block itself. The tiny details mentioned about the flats, the conversations between
It was also refreshing to read a different kind of ‘tower
block’ portrayal, one that isn’t grey, bleak, crumbling and containing
characters living solely in poverty. There are varying levels of privilege and
representations which are all equally explored.
Khan has found his voice in using his experiences, shining a light on them in a creative, well thought out manner. While the plot isn’t the most fast-paced, the characters and their dialogue more than makes up for any potential lull. The novel offers an added complexity and history which only those voices within The Study Circle will be able to tell us.
Haroun Khan is a writer from South London. The Study Circle is his first novel. Dead Ink Books is a small and experimental literary publisher based in Liverpool, UK.
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