Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Book blues

Picked up Monica Ali's 'Alentejo Blue' in Istanbul, having loved her 'Brick Lane'. 'Brick Lane', set in London, was funny, exciting, one did not know what was happening and full of little details (she says, writing from memory and not having said book to hand). 'Brick Lane' is all that 'Alentejo Blue' is not.

Maybe it's the difference of being set in vibrant London, compared to life in a little village somewhere in Portugal. This book is a series of descriptions in rather dull days of different people, locals, expats, tourists, written from each other's perspectives in life going on in this village. There is a loose kind of time sequence but when one person speaks one only occasionally picks up hints about other people who one has passed by in earlier chapters. The only tension is created by the blurb on the back of the book 'the homecoming is a subject of continuing speculation, and when Marco Alfonso Rodriguez finally does appear, villagers, tourists and expatriates are brought together and their jealousies, passions and disappointments must inevitably collide...'. Don't hold your breath. This is about the most exciting sentence in the book. The characters are mostly dull people, all feeling downtrodden, and that they could do more with their lives (and indeed they could); nothing very much happens, apart from a teenage pregnancy and this homecoming.

A reviewer in amazon writes: 'Every page glitters with stunning prose'. Eh? What's stunning about 'Field upon field upon field, wheat and grass and fallow, on and on and on, and in this flat composition there was a depth, both sadness and tremulous joy'. 'Flat composition' seems like the operative word here.

I hope Ms Ali will return to the form of 'Brick Lane', and soon.