Review of ‘Western Lane’ by Chetna Maroo

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, longlisted for the Women’s Prize, with a string of other accolades, this short novel was a frustrating read for me. I understood what the author was trying to say but I found the execution rather flat. The ideas were there, the narrative brilliance wasn’t. This is the kind of writing where no one’s motivations, emotions and behaviour are allowed to be described; the reader is supposed to interpret these from things like someone turning on the taps, looking at the television, getting in or out of bed, saying something mundane, etc. One of my problems with the book was that the narrator is so rarely named and I had no idea how old she was supposed to be. I have turned to the blurb to find out – Gopi, aged 11. I wasn’t entirely sure what decade it was set in either and here the blurb doesn’t help me.

Book cover shows girl in dress with yellow background.

Gopi and her older sisters, Mona and Khush, live with their Pa in London. They are trying to cope after the mother’s death; they channel their grief into playing squash at the sports centre, Western Lane. They are Jains and can speak Gujarati but there is a sense that their culture clashes with their ambitions and how they want to live. Gopi is pushed to be more competitive, leading up to the grand finale of a squash contest. I have zero interest in squash. It’s basically hitting a ball against the wall. Not exactly gripping to read about. Also I wasn’t keen on the ending, which I felt was weak, although I suppose it was in keeping with the vagueness of the plot.

In summary, it wasn’t a bad read, especially considering it’s a debut novel, but I was expecting more. It also makes me even less inclined to pick up a squash racket.

Published by Picador, 2023.

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