21 May 2009

Brick Lane.

Brick Lane By Monica Ali.

At the tender age of eighteen, Nazneen's life is turned upside down. After an arranged marriage to a man twenty years her elder she exchanges her Bangladeshi village for a block of flats in London's East End. In this new world, where poor people can be fat and even dogs go on diets, she struggles to make sense of her existence - and to do her duty to her husband. A man of inflated ideas (and stomach) he sorely tests her compliance.

But Nazneen submits, as she must to Fate and devotes her life to raising her family and slapping down her demons of discontent. Until she becomes aware of a young radical, Karim.

Against a background of escalating racial and gang conflict, they embark on an affair that finally forces Nazneen to take control of her life....

A first novel from Monica Ali, Brick Lane follows the story of Nazneen from her birth in 1967 up until 2002 when, with the help of her daughters ,Shahana and Bibi ,and family friend ,Razia, she gets both her independence and to fulfil a long held dream. It also follows the story, through a series of written correspondences, of Nazneen's sister, Hasina, who remained in Bangladesh. Ultimately though it is the story of different generations, cultures and beliefs, all quite intricately woven.

The writing is wonderful ,both funny ("Killed by falling cows. He was only alone a few moments and when they went back in he was underneath the cows. Seventeen frozen cows"), descriptive("The teenager- as flaccid in his chair as a virgin balloon ...") and thought provoking ( "I'm thinking as long as they're on the scag, they stay away from religion. And the government - it's more scared of Islam than heroin.") and, yet at the same time, as is certainly the case of the correspondence from Hasina , can be hard going.

The characters whilst undeniably interesting, for me, lacked something - perhaps a certain warmth? The women characters, though not always likable, were on the whole, better written, stronger and more challenging, whilst the male characters were weaker, somewhat one dimensional and lacking in numbers - compared to some eight or so major female characters there were only four or so noteworthy male, only two of whom, Nazneen's husband Chanu and her lover, Karim, played any real part.

All in all, a good read, though perhaps slightly too long. Personally I think the author could have spent slightly longer exploring certain issues and the impact these had on the community but then that would have made it a totally different novel.


Erika Baker said...

I liked the characters, they were all a mix of likeable and unlikeable, not the usual stereotypes of Muslim women = good, Muslim men = bad.

And I liked how it was mostly written from Nazneen's view. To think she lived in England but to all intent and purposes could have lived anywhere else, so little did she know about the country and about what was going on around her!

Petty Witter said...

I know exactly what you mean by "not the usual stereotypes", Erika. That's why, in an odd way, Mrs Islam, though quite a ruthless, manipulative character, was, perhaps, my favourite - not at all what you would expect of an aging muslim woman