martes, 6 de enero de 2009

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

A review should always try to address its subject in its own terms. The purpose, after all, is many-sided, to summarise, paraphrase, contextualise, all with the express intention of informing a potentially interested participant of the nature of the experience on offer. Any proffered review that merely says I did or did not like it is thus entirely specious, since it conveys nothing of the work in focus, only the doubly-uninterpretable reaction of a dismembered, effectively anonymous opinion.

So in the case of Brick Lane by Monica Ali a dutiful list of the elements must begin with the setting. For the majority non-Londoners, Brick Lane is a market street in East London. It is just up the road from the eastern fringes of the City of London, the financial centre that boasts gleaming towers and vast wealth. (Or perhaps it once did!)

But over the years Brick Lane has been a magnet for new migrants, communities marginalised by both origin and destination. It has also been a centre for political action of all shades. The current occupants of this social clearing house are Bangladeshis and the street, in particular, has become a centre for Bangladeshi culture and food.

So, at the centre of Monica Ali’s novel is a Bangladeshi woman, Nazneen, who arrives in Britain to meet her husband, Chanu, an apparently slobbering slob, imbued with more social manners than domestic. But arrangement suffices, as Nazneen learns to cope with married life in a foreign place in which she has no ties and little communication.

Nazneen’s experience in London’s Brick Lane is juxtaposed via an exchange of letters with the parallel experience of Hasina, her sister in Bangladesh. The two women’s experiences eventually diverge as local pressures demand decision and action.

The contrasts, along with the considered tensions between white working class racism and Muslim identity promotion in east London ought to provide a powerful vehicle with which to explore worlds of culture, experience, relationships and ideology. Brick Lane, unfortunately, falls short of every destination. Unfortunately again, the characters are weak, the artifice feels false, the vibrant location is portrayed as dull and the passions of ideological difference are confused and politically limp or naive.

Brick Lane was an ambitious project, but it began confused and lost direction as it progressed. It does have its moments, but its hours are long, and not a little tedious.

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Brick Lane

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