Hend Hegazi’s second book is a departure from her debut novel in many ways. Her first novel focussed on a significant issue and how the characters affected dealt with the fallout of it. We act as witnesses to the protagonist’s journey and desire resolution for her. In her second book, we are invited into the kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms of a host of characters living in one street. Hegazi creates their lives and their problems in front of us and takes us along with them as their lives are changed over a period of time.
Behind Picket Fences is the story of four couples and their very different lives: Faris and Sidra are the affluent young couple struggling with childlessness. Porter and Summer are the company executive and the bohemian artist dealing with her anxiety and feelings of being not being listened to. Hasan and May are a loving Muslim couple dealing with the impact of illness on their own and their children’s lives. Morgan and Mariam are the loving couple with small children whose financial problems begin to threaten their marriage. Each struggles with their own problems behind closed doors, appearing happy and successful to the outside world.
Hegazi manages you to make you care about each of the characters and what happens to them. She lays bare their inner thoughts and creates interactions between the couples that feel truthful. The first thing I noticed about this book is how the writer’s writing style has matured and improved from her first novel. The prose flows over the pages, but most of all the conversation feels so natural and true to life.
Whereas the first book made a point of how the protagonist relied on her faith to get through the trauma of what she suffers, in this book faith comes up in more subtle ways, for both the Muslims and non-Muslims. We see the need for faith in difficult times, but also the questioning of faith and the finding of faith when life feels unbearable.
We witness some of the characters change and evolve and I think Hegazi achieved this in a realistic way. We see the impact of the young stay at home mum finding work both on her husband and herself and how this affects their seemingly perfect marriage. The break down of the marriage is painful to witness and the conversations and inner dialogue of the characters at different points is believable and uncomfortably like watching someone you know self-destruct.
Key to the story arcs in this novel is how lack of honest communication can destroy our relationships or nurture them – whether through feeling unappreciated, through feeling outside of your comfort zone in your marriage or whether this is through hiding the pain that you feel.
We come to care about the characters and hope that things will work out for them, when they don’t, Hegazi portrays this to devastating affect. When I read this book, never in a million years did I think I would feel so much for the characters that I literally cried at one point. The book ends as with real life without all of the characters stories tied up in into neat happy endings, we are left wanting to know more about where their journeys will take them.
I didn’t think I would enjoy this book as it is not the type of book that I usually pick up, but I found it immensely readable and also very relatable. I also liked Hegazi’s gentle portrayal of a Muslim family, real and likeable without feeling preachy. I think everyone will be able to relate to some of the characters in this book or identify with their experiences on some level.
You can buy the book on Amazon here, learn more about her writing here and on her Facebook page here.