Ibrahim and Reenie

David Llewellyn
Publication Date: 
Monday, September 16, 2013
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Ibrahim is walking from Cardiff to London. He has his reasons and he’s not doing it for charity. What he hasn’t counted on is bumping into seventy-five-year-old cockney Reenie doing the same thing, before he’s even reached Newport.

With her life’s luggage in a shopping trolley, complete with an orange tent and a cockatiel, Reenie is also walking from her Cardiff home to London, and not for charity.

A young Muslim ex-student with a tough few years behind him, Ibrahim is not looking for company that day. But when the police stop to check on him and Reenie on the grass verge by a hotel on the edge of town, he finds himself offering to share a journey that will take him places he had never dreamed of, starting with a night’s camping on the Coldra M4 interchange!

The odd couple soon attracts the attention of local journalists, one of a number of unexpected encounters that shape their route. But more life-changing is the relationship that builds between them. As Ibrahim and Reenie talk, their paths stretch out before and behind them into the personal and political turns of European history in ways neither could have foreseen. 

An impressive and daringly human book from novelist David Llewellyn.

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Review from New Welsh Review

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When most people travel from Cardiff to London they jump in a car or catch the train. But Ibrahim and Reenie aren’t like most people, and they are walking. Yet surprisingly their distinct lack of transport isn’t a charity gimmick and they each have their own reasons for making the profound journey on foot. Ibrahim and Reenie follows the pair as they embrace the open road and face the ghosts of their past.

Anyone embarking on this 150-mile-long journey would most certainly leave a number of raised eyebrows in their wake, though perhaps none more so than ‘gammy’-legged Ibrahim and 75-year-old Reenie. With an uncontrollable trolley and a beloved cockatiel in tow, they make an impression on everyone they meet. And there is no shortage of minor characters in this novel.

Minor characters have an unfortunate habit of being swallowed by up by the core of the narrative. However, Llewellyn cleverly avoids this by introducing them as a means to propel the journey, both in a physical and emotional sense, as well as to provide some light relief from the hardships of the protagonists’ travels. Yet these cameos aren’t just planted for Ibrahim and Reenie’s convenience, as (delightfully) each of them have their own agenda: from the young news reporter in pursuit of her first big break, to the out-of-hours engineer ‘determined to use his day to shape the world, to be more than just another cog.’

Unfortunately, the author’s introduction of these characters is very systematic, and becomes somewhat predictable as the novel progresses. In spite of this, there is a comfortable rhythm to these encounters which gives the novel good pace and helps to break up what could otherwise be a monotonous tale.

It is clear from the first few pages that character development is Llewellyn’s strength, as not only does he successfully craft memorable cameo roles, but also deeply understood and complex lead characters. One of the novel’s most memorable moments is when Reenie recounts how it wasn’t her ‘first grey hair’ that made her feel old but the ‘vaguely patronising’ young man helping her with her bags: ‘It was one thing to notice her body aging, quite another for others to notice and act on it.’

Llewellyn also illustrates how age, circumstance and social status can alter perception. This is explored through Reenie’s internal monologue as she considers how she would have thought of Ibrahim had she been ‘fifty years younger’ or if she had first seen him ‘coming towards her on a dark night’. This idea is developed further through both characters as they revisit childhood memories and begin to make sense of their parents’ life-defining choices.

One of the most remarkably achieved aspects of this novel is how Llewellyn crafts the relationship between his leads. This is achieved through the secrets that the characters keep from one another (and the reader) about their past and their reasons for journeying to London. Through this delayed gratification, the reader becomes truly invested in the pair’s plight; willing them on to the end if only so that they can find out what drove each of them to undertake their painstaking journey.

In the opening chapter, the road is described as a place ‘where all things came when they had outlived their purpose, when they were useless or dead.’ Yet this does not prove to be true for Ibrahim and Reenie, as their chance meeting helps both make peace with the mistakes of their past. This witty and thought-provoking read will encourage the reader to open their mind and look beyond the age and colour of someone’s skin.

Megan Jones NWR

05/08/2014 - 12:42