Every time I’m in Melbourne (which is not as often as I’d like), I love to browse at Reader’s Feast in the CBD (corner of Bourke St and Swanston, downstairs from Starbucks). This store loves books. They have a fantastic range (including The Morland Dynasty, which it seems no other Australian, New Zealand or Singaporean bookshop carries) and you are welcome to browse to your heart’s content. They even send a regular catalogue by post for me to drool over.
But I digress. On my last trip, I was browsing the shelves and the cover of Brick Lane caught my eye. I had never heard of the movie or the book before. It looked interesting, so I added it to my pile and brought it back home with me.
Brick Lane is about Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl who enters an arranged marriage with Chanu, an older man who lives in London. She is brought to a foreign way of life- life in a council flat and life in a foreign language. As time goes by, Nazneen meets Karim, a young man who opens up her life somewhat. But when Chanu announces his plans to return home, Nazneen is conflicted.
You would think that there would be plenty of teething problems for Nazneen, settling into a new country where she doesn’t speak the language, but the book seems to gloss over the differences in culture and marriage to a man she barely knows. A lot of the book felt disconnected with the feelings of the characters- Nazneen seems to be ambivalent to a lot of upheavals (‘how you were left to your Fate’ is a recurring theme’) and it took me several readings to understand that a character had actually died.
I felt that the first 300 pages were long and wordy- a description of daily life in the walls of Nazneen’s flat and Chanu’s ideas. When Karim enters the novel, the pace picked up a bit but again Nazneen didn’t appear to have passion or hatred for what she was doing. The last part of the book was the most exciting (Fire! Riots!) but was all too quickly over and settled back into a languid pace. While Nazneen should be applauded for her stand, I felt it took too long to get there.
My copy also had an article by the author in response to the movie release- apparently there had been protests regarding the portrayal of Nazneen and the Bangladeshi community. It left me to wonder if the movie was more daring and fast paced than the book…I may have to watch it to find out.
I’d say this is a 6.5 out of 10- just too slow for me.