My Mother used to run a Guest House, and I found Monica Ali’s Brick Lane in amongst the bookshelves in one of the rooms. I still need to return it and explain that the spine was damaged long before I borrowed it (a sign that many readers have enjoyed the story long before you begin). It garnered a lot of attention for its Man Booker shortlisting in 2003 and I liked the clean, simple cover design. Beyond that, I really had no idea what to expect. What drew me in was Ali’s language, her ability to give you a sense of a room or of the emotional state of her characters in barely a few sentences. The opening line is one of my favourite book openings:
“An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen’s life began – began as it would proceed for quite some tine, that is to say uncertainly – her mother Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly.”
This is a story of Nazneen; it is a tale of her her journey from a village in Bangladesh to a flat in the East End of London, and of her arranged marriage to a man who initially seems cold, indifferent. She knows no English and has to rely on her husband, spending her days tucked away sewing clothes, until she meets the radical Karim. The story of racial conflict and tension is beautifully portrayed, as is the love affair she eventually has with Karim, and her ultimate choices. It makes you question so many of your own ideas, and is an intimate picture of a life lived in a new culture with all of the conflicting messages and emotions.