March Books 25) Brick Lane, by Monica Ali

Second paragraph of third chapter:

She walked slowly along the corridor, looking at the front doors. They were all the same. Peeling red paint showing splinters of pale wood, a rectangular panel of glass with wire meshing suspended inside, gold-rimmed keyholes, stern black knockers. A door flew open and a head bobbed out in front of her. It was bald and red with unknown rage. She nodded but today it did not acknowledge her. Nazneen passed with her eyes averted to the wall. Someone had drawn a pair of buttocks in thick black pen, and next to them a pair of breasts with elongated nipples. Behind her a door slammed. She reached the stairwell and cantered down. The overhead light was fierce; she could feel its faint heat even as the concrete cold crept into her toes. The stairs gave off a tang of urine. She bunched the skirts of her sari with one hand and took the steps two at a time until she missed a ledge and came down on her ankle against an unforgiving ridge. She caught the stair rail and did not fall but clung to the side for a moment, then continued down, stamping as if the pain was just a cramp to be marched out.

I very much enjoyed this portrait of a world that I have occasionally glimpsed via my Bangladeshi relatives; our protagonist, Nazneen, stuck in an arranged marriage and transported to Brick Lane in London at the age of 18, gradually finds her own way to gaining control of her own life, managing her relationships with husband and her lover – both fantasists in their different ways – and transcending the tensions within her own community and between it and its neighbours. Meanwhile the letters she gets from her sister back home become increasingly gut-wrenching. The ending isn’t a completely happy one, but then, what ending is?

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