Sunday, April 09, 2006

Brick Lane

When I started reading Brick Lane by Monica Ali last evening, I was not looking to stay up past midnight to finish it. It is the kind of book, that if I don't finish the first time, I will never get back to again. Unputdownable books are not always the most memorable. It requires that the story have a reasonable pace but does not call for introspection or any deep emotional response.

The theme of Ali's story is common enough. A dependent woman trapped in a dead marriage meets a breath of fresh air - a man unlike anyone she has seen in her cloistered life. They have an affair, the marriage morphs in fundamental ways but survives. In the end everyone wins. Nazeen, the trapped hausfrau gains freedom - she opts to stay on with her two daughters in London, Karim her lover is absolved of his obligation to her when she says she does not want to marry him. Chanu her husband returns to Bangladesh to start over after thirty years of being an impoverished failure in London.

Despite its very ordinary premise and predictable denouement, the story is well-told. The characters and their circumstances come to life from the start. Frequent flashbacks take Nazneen to Bangladesh, but there is no contrived exoticism - a prop too many sub-continental writers use. The letters from Hasina, Nazeen's sister are excruciatingly painful and I skipped all of them. Besides the letters and the fairy-tale end that does not jive with the rest of Ali’s story, Brick Lane is actually a half decent read.

No comments: