Sunday, April 26, 2009

From The Times
April 24, 2009
In the Kitchen by Monica Ali
The Times review by Natalie Sandison

Since the high-profile publication of Monica Ali's critically acclaimed and bestselling Brick Lane in 2003, much has been made of her contribution to the restoration of the good old traditional novel. At a time when some said that realism in fiction was becoming “hysterical”, Ali (pic right) shone her torch into a quiet room in Hackney and produced a big, literary novel about new things in an old way - a fine, comfy, familiar, Charles Dickens kind of way.

The critic James Wood argued that Brick Lane, among other contemporary novels by writers from immigrant populations, returned fiction to its 19th-century gravity. “This it does,” Wood wrote, “by re-imparting into the Western novel traditional societies with their ties of marriage, burdens of religion, obligations of civic duty, and the pressures of propriety - and thereby restoring to the novel form some of the old oppressions that it was created to comprehend and to resist and in some measure to escape.”

Ali brought the traditional strictures of the Bangladeshi community, into which she was born, an East London housing estate. Through the wide-eyed observations of her heroine - whose struggle for independence was the pulsing heart of the novel - she explored the modern immigrant experience and post-9/11 fears of Islamic radicalisation.

Ali's strengths lie in a cool authorial distance, and a passion for detail, the slow accumulation of which, through the patient observations of Nazneen, was perfect for the stultifying domestic realism of Brick Lane. Not so for its successor. In her new novel, Ali has taken the action out of the home and into the high-octane kitchen of the executive chef Gabriel Lightfoot, whose restaurant at the Imperial Hotel gives her a wider, more public space in which to continue her exploration of the modern immigrant experience.

The full review at The Times online. And here is The Guardian review from the week before.
In the Kitchen by Monica Ali - Doubleday, £17.99; 432pp

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