Did you ever have a friend who made you see the world differently?
From the acclaimed author of the story collection Escape Routes comes a timely, bittersweet and beautifully observed coming of age story about a friendship that defines two lives, and about the value of loyalty in a divided world.
It’s a lonely life for Stan, at a new school that feels more ordeal than fresh start, and at home where he and his mother struggle to break the silence after his father’s death. When he encounters fearless, clever Charlie on the local common, all of that begins to change. Charlie’s curiosity is infectious, and it is Charlie who teaches Stan, for the first time, to stand on his own two feet. But will their unit of two be strong enough to endure in a world that offers these boys such different prospects?
The pair part ways, until their paths cross once again, as adults at a London party. Now Stan is revelling in all that the city has to offer, while Charlie seems to have hit a brick wall. He needs Stan’s help, and above all his friendship, but is Stan really there for the man who once showed him the meaning of loyalty?
I really enjoy stories told from the viewpoint of children and love those that then follow them as they become adults, but this was really disappointing. The characters didn't seem believable for their age, it didn't seem plausible that a streetwise 16 yr old would strike up a friendship with a struggling 13 yr old and the characters seemed stereotyped and one dimensional. The dialogue seemed awkward and unrealistic. Began to skip and skim, what I read was 2 star at the most.
You know, this book just wasn’t for me. I found it dull, and I never wanted to pick it up. Also, the whole point if this book is the friendship between the main characters and I didn’t believe. I felt absolutely no connection between them, so for me the book ultimately failed. But who knows, you might love this one. It’s out now. Thanks to the publishers for my copy.
Not sure why I picked this one up. Wished I could remember the reason so I won't do it again. A book about a friendship which was all a bit strange - especially why it happened and why it was rekindled. It all felt about flat and forced. Plus a 400 page tome needs to keep the reader's interest. This one didn't and I skipped and skimmed my way through most of the second half.
Naomi Ishiguro’s debut novel, Common Ground, starts in a very familiar place. It’s 2003, but it might as well be 1950; thirteen-year-old Stan is the school outcast, teased for his NHS glasses and old clothes, and struggling after his father’s death. When he meets cool sixteen-year-old Charlie, who doesn’t go to school but works at the local gym instead, an unlikely friendship results. Stan – who, speaking as someone who was also a pretty unworldly teenager in 2003, seems almost impossibly naive – is fascinated by Charlie’s Traveller* family and shocked at the abuse they receive. Almost ten years later, in 2012, Stan and Charlie meet again at a party in London. Both are now very different people, and struggle to connect across class, education and racial divides. Charlie’s life has been marked by the social exclusion and discrimination he’s experienced, while Stan seems to have lightly shrugged off his earlier suffering. Will their previous closeness be enough to bring them together?
Common Ground has very worthy intentions, and draws attention to a form of racism that is often forgotten, despite recent headlines about discrimination against Traveller communities in both Britain and Ireland. However, as a novel, I found it plodding and simplistic, and much too long. I was a little puzzled about what it was trying to do. A number of reviews describe it as ‘feelgood’ or ‘heartwarming’, but I found it rightly, relentlessly grim. If you’re looking for something that cheerfully explores community in the vein of Libby Page’s The Lido or Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie, this is not the book for you. However, by itself, that isn’t a problem – there’s no reason why a book that explores this kind of entrenched racism should be uplifting. The trouble is that Common Ground doesn’t bring much more to the table. The prose is competent, but both Charlie and Stan remain within the boundaries of their respective archetypes. When they meet again in London in 2012, Charlie slips straight into the salt-of-the-earth working-class observer role, mocking middle-class students’ pretentious views on art (why is this always the way protagonists demonstrate emotional authenticity?) while Stan can’t speak without lapsing into journalistic jargon about austerity politics. People are more complicated than this.
I was sorry not to like Common Ground more, because I really admire its focus on the experiences of Traveller communities. I would actually be keen to try Ishiguro’s collection of short stories, Escape Routes, to see how her writing works in a very different form. DNF @ 62%.
I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.
*There are a range of terms that these communities use to refer to themselves, as the linked article describes. I’m using ‘Traveller’ in this review because it’s the word Charlie seems to prefer.
**Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review**
This book is not what I would normally be drawn to, but it was recommended to me and one of my reading goals this year is to branch out a little more, and so I thought I’d give it a go.
Common Ground explores social justice issues faced by the Traveller community, and the discrimination faced on a day to day basis. I’m not going to try and comment on the issues raised in this book, as I am not in any position to do so and don’t know how/what to say in the face of this. The way that Naomi Ishiguro explores the issues in such a subtle way highlights the injustice faced by minority communities in the world today. The book isn’t all pizzazz and intense clashes - everything is realistic and mirrors day to day life and this adds to the shock factor. The author successfully highlights that these are social justice issues faced daily in real life, not some fictional tale dramaticised for the shock factor.
I normally go for more plot-driven books - I find myself more easily hooked/gripped by an intense read that has me needing to know what happens asap, and this book wasn’t that. However, I wouldn’t change anything about this book simply because if it was dramaticised it wouldn’t have the same impact. The aim was to highlight the injustice faced by minorities in everyday life in the world today, this was well achieved by maintaining a quiet prose style rather than exploring more tense dramatic writing that could suggest that ‘things aren’t that bad - they were just dramaticised for the book’.
I can’t fault this book and the only reason I am going for a 4-star review is because of my own personal preference for faster-paced books. This book is poignant, emotional and reflective, and I would recommend it for sure.
Having much enjoyed Naomi Ishiguro's debut collection of short stories, I was was greatly looking forward to her first full-length novel. In 'Common Ground' she brings us a tale of an unlikely friendship between 13-year old Stan and 16-year old Charlie, literally meeting on the local common. Stan lives with his mother, his dad having died the year before, and he struggles to fit in and is the victim of bullying at school; Charlie is a free spirit, a Traveller and - as such - also an outsider. The first part of the book is set in 2003, and we then jump forward in part two to 2012, where the two meet up again by accident, only to find this time that their situations have been reversed. Stan is now a confident postgrad student, while Charlie struggles to keep down a job and is in a sticky marriage. Can the two friends find a way to navigate the future?
So, in theory, it looked like a good book to delve into: lots of issues of friendship, being an outsider, race in modern-day Britain, and so on.... But, I just felt a disconnect from the beginning. Part One felt and read at times like a YA novel, and it didn't improve much in Part Two, although some of the scenes would be a bit too heavy for YAs. Unfortunately, I just didn't believe in the likelihood of the friendship in the first place - it just seemed artificial, a 16yo befriending a 13yo in the way it works out. And as the book went on the 'message' was, well, not so subtle. What I found worked in the short story collection was totally absent here; there were no subtle metaphors, or quiet allusions to meaning. Here, you get The Message very bluntly spelt out to you. This is what the moral is. And now I'm going to tell you again. And again. And, sadly, it became quite tiresome. There surely must be space for the reader to make the connections, space where what is unsaid is more powerful than what beats you over the head, where a scene in part 2 that mirrors something that happened in part 1 is not explicitly pointed out to us ('like déja vu or something' we are told).
The idea is worthy, and at times there are flashes of the lyrical potential that Ishiguro displayed in 'Escape Routes', but it was just way too obvious in hammering home the 'moral of the story'. I look forward to seeing what Naomi Ishiguro comes up with next, but I'm afraid this was just a slightly disappointing 3 stars.
Da amante della letteratura orientale come non leggere il libro della figlia di Kazuo Ishiguro?
Naomi Ishiguro con “Terreno comune” racconta una storia di vita che parte dall’adolescenza, tratta di un’amicizia che nonostante le avversità si consolida e rimane fino all’età adulta.
Con un linguaggio più fresco e moderno del padre, l’autrice intrattiene il lettore con uno stile chiaro e moderno.
Fin dalle prime pagine il lettore conosce Stan, un ragazzino di tredici anni che è oppresso dal bullismo che vive a scuola, mentre a casa ha una madre persa nella sua malinconia per la perdita del marito, ma le giornate di Stan cambiano nel momento in cui incontra Charlie. Charlie ha sedici anni, ha una visione della vita diversa dalla sua, è coraggioso, sfrontato e tutti lo considerano uno zingaro per le radici della sua famiglia. Stan per la prima volta trova un vero amico e non si fa influenzare dai pregiudizi della gente.
La prima parte del libro è quella forse più lenta, ma che ho apprezzato di più perché tratta della nascita del loro rapporto, piano, piano il lettore entra in confidenza con questi due personaggi che, seppur con radici diverse, l’amicizia nasce solida e profonda fin dall’inizio. Dopo un incidente c’è un salto temporale e incontriamo di nuovo Stan e Charlie, diversi perché la vita cambia le persone, ma non muta il loro rapporto anche dopo anni di silenzi.
Ho apprezzato molto l’evoluzione e il cambiamento dei due protagonisti che ho trovato realistici e ben caratterizzati, avrei preferito un maggior approfondimento sulle figure secondarie, ma nel complesso la struttura funziona.
La storia è lineare, si parla di storie di vita, di bullismo, di pregiudizi, ma anche di speranza e di amicizia. Una storia che fa riflette e che tratta temi anche attuali.
* I think it is important to note to start that I am not an own voices reviewer for this book *
This is a lovely, heartfelt tale of growing up, friendship and choosing to build connections rather than fuel discrimination.
The book centres around Stan, a lonely boy with a depressed mother who is being bullied at school, and his friend Charlie, a slightly older boy from a Traveller family who has a very different take on what it means to belong to a place, to people and to stick up for yourself than Stan has.
Over the course of the book their friendship changes, grows and ultimately comes to stand for a hope of societal change. They don't so much save each other as they do remind each other how to be strong and resilient when needed. The best parts of their back and forth reminded me of the give and take of some of my most treasured friendships.
It is also a book about how important friendships actually are. The people we choose to surround ourselves with can in many ways define us. When the people we choose to have as our closest friends throw the rest of our lives under a difficult spotlight, it can be hard to balance the conflicting demands of the individual your family needs you to be and the the person you project to your friends. The book explores this tension wonderfully.
I felt for Charlie much more than I felt for Stan - in the first half of the book they are teenagers and I think you develop a soft spot for them both, bit in the second half when they are in their twenties Stan is so idealistic that I found it hard to think he really saw a friendship with Charlie more than he did an opportunity for a journalistic opportunity. He brings it back though, by the end. Charlie I just wanted to hug the whole way through. He is a lost boy, a lost man and somehow, underneath, he has a desperate desire to make things better in the world in a way that feels more tangible than Stan's principles do.
I think for me I would have liked to have read about these characters more at the late teenage stage and then 30s stage rather than early-mid teen and then twenties that the book centres on, and I couldn't quite get past student for the middle third. Overall though, this is a beautifully written book. It seemed to me to be trying to tell an important story about the people we overlook or choose not to befriend and to be doing it very well. If anyone knows of any own voices reviews, please let me know!
Over the past six years I’ve watched from afar as the country I was born in has morphed and warped into an altogether different beast than what I thought it was. During this time, something rather insidious, has reared its ugly head- a teeming eldritch mass of prejudice and intolerance: a horror not cosmic in origin but utterly terrestrial, utterly human. But I’d be foolish to think it was never there before: it always was. It’s just that its Brexit, Facebook and austerity-empowered tentacles have slithered into the public domain, oozing into the cracks and crevices of national discourse like never before.
Just as Kazuo used historical fiction to explore the post-war crumbling of the UK’s rigid class structures in his masterful ‘Remains of the Day’, Ishiguro Jr here offers an updated dissection of Britain’s caste system in her promising debut. She does this via a compassionate tale of two teenage boys who find common ground on common ground (i.e forming an unlikely friendship in the relative and symbolic freedom of a public park). Stan is an awkward, socially anxious victim of bullying, coming to terms with the death of his father and the subsequent withdrawal of his mother. Charlie is a Traveller, a curious and cocksure young man, whose confidence and supposed sagacity helps him to become a romanticised role model for the lonely Stan.
Reminiscent of David Mitchell’s ‘Black Swan Green’, Ishiguro crafts a compelling and nostalgic coming-of-age story set in a very familiar English town in the early 00’s. At least she does for the first half. When the story shifts forward nine years, we catch up with the characters and see how their fateful teenage connection has rerouted their lives, the novel now exploring the fragility and endurance of relationships, both familial and romantic, but primarily the platonic and fraternal. All of this against the backdrop of the 2012 Olympics, that celebrated zenith of Britain’s supposed multi-cultural harmony; this shiny, glossy London, appearing on the screens around him, being one unfamiliar to the drudgery and disillusionment of Charlie’s existence.
What resonated for me so much here though was the relationship between Stan and his mum and how much it is defined by class-based shame and resentment, particularly touched as it is by the previously mentioned tentacles of political division. Let’s just say, this hit home.
For this, and for its sensitive depiction of the plight of the traveller community, something I’ve not read often in fiction, this book was a compelling evocation of post-Brexit Britain and its spaces, occupied, unclaimed and disputed. It reminded me very much of Jez Butterworth’s brilliant play ‘Jerusalem’ in term of its exploration of occupancy, community and the nebulous and often hypocritical notion of ‘Britishness’. Where that was a fierce and irreverent firecracker of a production, this is an empathetic, timely appeal for us all to try and find common ground amidst such polarisation and though its denouement feels a little unrealistic in its optimism, it’s a pleasant and pertinent enough read.
Started off as a promising read but I quickly began to loose the will to carry on with it.
I had come across Naomi Ishiguro on a book podcast and I was keen to see what the daughter of a renowned author (her father is Kazuo Ishiguro) would put out in her first novel.
The book felt long and drawn out, depressing and hopeless. I admire the author's unique way of discussing social justice issues that ethnic minorities face in the UK, in particular the Travelling communities. However, I didn't connect with either of the main characters and the supporting characters seemed rather thinly fleshed out. I would have liked to have read more about the Traveller community that Charlie was a part of, or perhaps Stan's relationship with his mother after his father dies, it seemed rather unresolved to me. Was it because of her prejudices or because she was depressed? And I couldn't see why Charlie would be friends with Stan in the first place, it seemed so unlikely.
The final section of the book was so jarringly different in pace, like the author had run out of stamina and wanted to sprint to the end to get it all over with, it felt incongruous with the previous two sections - but I was so bored at this point and grateful for the story to wrap up.
Joyous, tender, and gripping, Common Ground is a perfectly drawn portrait of a friendship about the freedom and innocence of childhood and the social pressures of adulthood. Long after finishing Charlie and Stan refuse to be forgotten. I couldn't put this one down.
The story deals with the social issues around the traveller community in the UK and the wider issues around racism and nationalism. It's done with an emotional and informative touch.
At its heart the story is about two friends from very different backgrounds growing together and supporting each other through tough times. I would recommend this book to anyone. It's universal themes and uplifting and inspiring story will make anyone feel good about the world.
An extraordinary, sophisticated novel which holds a lens to the social fabric and unconscious and conscious biases prevalent in England, while exploring the importance of friendship and expectations of masculinity. The writing was fluid and compelling - at times will leave you breathless.
This was such a fantastic book. Because of the short story at the end I thought I had more to read than I did. When I realised I was down to the last 20 pages I was gutted. A contender for my book of the year so far
“That was the thing about other people. You owed them a particular version of yourself. You had to make them laugh, or feel safe, or whatever else they expected of you. You had to seem like you had the whole thing under control.”
Year 2003 - 13-year-old Stan, met Charlie in the local common when Charlie fixed Stan's broken bike and that marks the beginning of their friendship. Both have very distinct personalities: Stan was shy and less confident as he was being bullied in school; Charlie was confident and outspoken and he always encouraged Stan to stand up for himself. Stan discovered Charlie's status as a Traveller/Gypsy and he was then exposed to the prejudicial treatment that was cast upon Charlie and his family. An accident happened to Stan and both friends were separated.
Year 2012 - Charlie, now an adult living in London, has hit a brick wall in his life: he is facing marriage problems with his wife Kate, employment issues with his employer who underpaid him because of his status as a Traveller, his drinking problems, insecurities, poverty, and self-consciousness. When he finally met Stan (who is now in the midst of completing his Master's degree) after so many years, his insecurities heightened but at the same time, he is happy that Stan is now living a better life than himself. Here lies the question: whether their friendship can withstand the impending racial tensions and cultural differences?
Perhaps Common Ground might be a little too COMMON and predictable to me. The only writer which is able to turn an ordinary issue (or human emotion) into something magnificent would be the author's father, Kazuo Ishiguro. But I swear that I did not compare this book with her father's work when I'm reading it. I love how Naomi Ishiguro explored Charlie's struggles with his life, the Travellers' communal life, the tensions between Travellers and Gorjer, their cultural diversity, societal expectations. Her prose is direct, confident and at times, emotional. Common Ground is a story about the labels attached to different groups of people, racism, and perseverance. The local common symbolizes a place where Stan and Charlie can truly be free of labels attached to them and societal expectations. It is a sweet coming of age story but lacked emotional depth and hence its a 3.5/5 star rating to me. Thanks to Definitely Books and Pansing Distribution for sending this review copy to me!
Surrey, 2003: Thirteen-year-old Stan goes to Goshawk Common to escape the expectations of those around him. But when his bike breaks, and Charlie stops to help him fix it, it is the beginning of a friendship that will have a lasting impact on both boys. Charlie is sixteen, more confident and experienced—he encourages Stan to stand up for himself against the bullies at school and opens Stan’s eyes to the prejudice against his Traveller community.
London, 2012: Stan and Charlie reconnect at a party, but the power has shifted: Stan is completing his masters’ degree, has a job at a newspaper and a settled life, while Charlie has a badly-paid job, a struggling marriage and is trapped between the expectations of his boss, his landlord and his family. Will Stan stand up for his old friend against racial tensions and anti-Traveller rhetoric?
I don’t know much about the Traveller community and they are not very well represented in contemporary fiction, so it was great to learn a bit more about this group. I particularly loved the overarching theme of common ground. “How can you say a man’s born free when the whole of the world he’s born into is already owned by someone else?” Charlie entreats his friend. “…what does that mean, Stan, when there’s nowhere he can go, nowhere he can just simply exist that isn’t governed already, that isn’t trying to shut him out, move him on, or tell him what he should and shouldn’t think…” This is something we should all be concerned about, whether it’s the fight for the right of access to footpaths rivers and beaches through private land, the eroding of our parks and natural spaces to private construction, or the restriction of freedom of movement as a result of Brexit.
'Common Ground' is a poignant coming-of-age story and a heartfelt call for action against intolerance and bigotry.
To be completely honest I mostly picked this book because I was intrigued by the fact it was written by Kazuo Ishiguro's daughter, Naomi Ishiguro. It's a terrible reason to pick a book, but I am so glad I did - I ended up really enjoying it. I found the start of the book a bit slow and it took me a while to get interested, but I did once Charlie is introduced as he meets 13 year old Stan, alone with a bike he doesn't know how to fix, on the common. Charlie is 16 and is part of the Travellers community, and they become friends - Charlie acting like a big brother to Stan who lives a lonely life, bullied at school, and not having much of a relationship with his mother, having lost his father a year prior. The first part of the book is about this friendship; and the second and third parts of the novel take place 9 years later. Charlie is the character that makes the book in my opinion - I didn't care much for Stanley,neither as a child nor a grown up, but he was a useful tool to hook readers not familiar with the Travellers community, I suppose - which is also my case. I found that the way the Travellers lives is described was kind, even joyful in a way, despite depicting clearly the discrimination they are victims of - Stanley's mum forbidding Charlie to stay in touch with him, Charlie finding out he was being paid less than his colleagues, the group having to move regularly despite enjoying where they are because the council keeps evicting them... I enjoyed the writing, and I enjoyed its warm and hopeful tone. Definitely recommend.
Stan is 13 and struggling at a new school when he meets Charlie. Complete opposites, they click and become good friends despite their differences. Stan is struggling with bullies whereas Charlie knows exactly how to stand up for himself and helps to show Stan how to gain confidence. Both know what it means to be an outsider, and it’s that common ground that pulls them towards each other even more.
10 years later and the book changes to be written from Charlie’s perspective. Both the boys have moved on from Newford and found their own ways in life as young adults. The tone of the book really changes at this point and there is a feeling of despair as the reality of the differences in their situations unfolds. There are no longer any high school bullies, but full grown adults and the systemic biases they carry. The focus turns to discrimination, the sense of belonging, and of what home really means.
Naomi Ishiguro brings characters to life that I’ve not really come across in other books. Charlie’s background is something that many authors would shy away from and I found it to be refreshing to have a view into his lifestyle without judgement. She brings empathy to his situation, an understanding of what family means to him, and shows the impossible situation he is in when dealing with discrimination. Charlie often feels conflict between how he was raised and what society wants from him, and Noami helps the reader to experience this right alongside him. This is a powerful coming of age story of friendship, family and loyalty in the face of awful discrimination.
i will acknowledge the last 100 pages of this were decent, and that if the entire book had been like that i would’ve liked it. again, why are you using a racist slur for a community you don’t belong to i don’t enjoy the sentiment personally. was just quite boring and i really had to force myself to read it - i think it has the potential to be good and the underlying theme of the people who truly care will always be there was nice but the execution of this felt very off.
2.5!! The book itself is actually written really well and surprisingly interesting! Except it’s just not my cup of tea, a bromance and some politics involved! But not too political and honestly with some really great points and messages!
A friendship between Charlie, a traveller and Stan set in 2000s. Interesting but littered with bad language and blasphemies that ruin the story. While the author is setting out to do something noble - defend the travellers - she doesn't see how taking God's name in vain undermines this good intent. A shame because there's a lot that's good about it.
I wanted to like this book. I really did. However, I found the writing to be so low par and shallow that I often felt frustrated. Done right, Charlie has the potential to be a fascinating character. Stan, maybe not. Both characters, alongside almost all the characters with spoken dialogue, are not written with any sense of authenticity or true connection from the author.
Charlie’s monologues simply do not sound like a sixteen-year-old’s way of speaking. The main bully in the story speaks in such a way that he is a walking cliché, full of sneering racist monologues about travellers, but no more depth is given.
Monologues, along with clipped, unnatural sentences, do little to show any personality whatsoever and are thrown about without any thought. A passing policeman, for example, is suddenly telling us his life story, and we wonder why. Meanwhile, entire characters such as bullies and love interests are introduced in the first half, then are never mentioned again except perhaps in passing in the second half.
In fact, it is hard to feel any sort of connection with the characters. I would say that it feels like young adult fiction, but that would be an insult to some amazing YA authors.
This author, at least with this book, is clumsy with words, plot points are cycled through as if painting by numbers. It feels at times like fanfiction at best. Skip this and find something else.
It is a slow paced, character driven novel split into three parts.
In Part One we meet 13 year old Stan Gower from Newford, Surrey. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with 16 year old Charlie Wells. Stan is intrigued by this mysterious boy.
Stan is reserved and conscientious and is being bullied at school as he is unlike the others. He doesn't "come from money" and is at the school on a scholarship. Confident Charlie helps him to realise that he is just as worthy as anybody else and helps him stand up for himself.
The relationship between them changes when it becomes common knowledge that Charlie is from the Traveller community (I am using this term as it is the one that is used in the book). His bullies use this as another target for Stan and his mother isn't happy with their friendship. They lose contact.
I really like the polarities between the two boys; Stan only has his mum after his father's death the year before and Charlie with his huge family. But they do have this "common ground" where they aren't accepted.
Part Two is set in 2012 and this time, the story is told from Charlie's point of view. He is now 25 years old and married to Kate. He seems like a shell of his former self, in an unhappy marriage, living in a rented flat in London and disliking his warehouse job. Your heart really does go out to him.
Charlie accidentally reconnects with Stan who is now a journalist. Stan realises that Charlie is the one who needs help now, just like Charlie helped him when he was a teen.
There is a political tone that runs throughout the book, touching on classism, fascism and nationalism and it is very well developed. I have never read a story like this one and I just loved every bit of it.
Pretty terrible book - really had to struggle to keep going with it. It's just poorly written, like a high school essay or something. I wonder if Naomi Ishiguro has got a leg-up on the back of her father's (better deserved) reputation. Anyway, the book itself does raise some interesting questions around social class, racism, and the nature of friendship; I found myself questioning the nature of the friendship of the two central characters, and if they were believable characters ten years after we first meet them. I thought not. So - some interesting themes, just badly handled by a poor writer.
I know I’m in the minority with this . I couldn’t connect with either of the main characters . Is it usual for a 16 year old to befriend a 13 year old ?. Skim read from half way to see if it got better . It didn’t. . Was hoping the leap forward in time might read better . ..Not for me at all .