Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl, likes to hear the story of how she was left to her fate after birth: she was a premature baby, and her mother refused to take her to the hospital to be cured. Nazneen lived, and decided later on that fate would rule her life. Therefore, when her father wants to marry her to Chanu, an older man she does not find attractive, Nazneen has no mind to rebel: she will go to London, where Chanu is making a living…

A dutiful wife, Nazneen cleans up, cooks, washes and dusts, and mostly, she is bored. For a long time she cannot speak English, and her only social relations are Mrs. Islam, a woman whom Nazneen’s husband deems respectable but who is an usurer, and Razia, whom he finds unsuitable but who eventually becomes a good friend. Day after day, Nazneen has to listen to her husband’s pompous theories while watching him go from disillusion to disillusion in a London which does not hold any opportunity for him. Three times a mother, she loses a baby son before raising two young daughters who illustrate the gap between the two cultures they are brought up into…

After many years as a dutiful wife, Nazneen begins an affair with a younger man, a radical Muslim who brings her sewing work at home. Torn between passion and her certainty to be damned (Nazneen is a devout Muslim herself), Nazneen tries to reconcile her life as a wife and mother and the new experience that makes her feel alive for the first time. Throughout the 17 years we follow her in London, she corresponds with her younger sister Hasina, who never submitted to her own fate and flew home at a very young age to marry for love. Hasina, who subsequently knows many misfortunes, is Nazneen’s only link with life in Bangladesh…

For several reasons I did not enjoy Brick Lane. I found the story very dull and disliked the characters, mainly the main character, Nazneen. It seemed to me that Monica Ali aimed to rewrite Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Chanu’s personality reminding a lot of the character of Charles Bovary. I found Ali’s irregular writing and her sometimes confusing insertions of flashbacks or dreams very tedious. To emphasize the sister’s lack of education, Ali wrote her letter with bad English grammar, which makes no sense since this correspondence is supposed to be written in Bengali anyway. It just made going through the letters a very irritating moment, and sometimes I just gave up making sense of some of the sentences. Brick Lane reminds me why I generally avoid very hyped books: they are often (but not always…) disappointing. Brick Lane tries very hard to pass itself for good literature, but it most certainly isn’t…

Rating: 2/5