Thursday, June 22, 2006

Monica Ali's ten favorite books

Monica Ali, wrote Ron Charles in the Christian Science Monitor in 2003, was

having one of those years that will encourage the fantasies of a million unpublished writers. Several months before her first book was published, Granta magazine included her in this decade's list of the best 20 young authors in England. The appearance of an actual book did nothing to quell that premature enthusiasm. In fact, Brick Lane rose to the British bestseller list ... and was included in the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Its arrival in America looks equally auspicious. But there's a risk of crushing this sensitive novel beneath a press of praise, like inciting a mob to pick fresh raspberries.

British critics have called her the next Zadie Smith, presumably because they're both young, nonwhite females who blasted onto the literary scene with Booker-nominated bestsellers about immigrant culture in London. But Ali displays none of Smith's pyrotechnics or her sprawling scope and scale. Biology aside, a better comparison would be with Anita Brookner, that non-young, blisteringly white matron of British fiction whose quiet incisive novels scrutinize the plight of lonely people.

The genius of Brick Lane lies in Ali's ability to make the peculiar universal while making what's familiar comically odd. Though it's a distinctly interior novel, the larger world resonates all along the edges with discordant strains of political and cultural disruption.

Read more of Ron Charles' review here.

Ali's most recent book is Alentejo Blue (2006).

Sometime back she shared her ten favorite books (on that particular day, anyway) with Barnes and Noble. Here are half of her titles:

Emma by Jane Austen -- A favorite from my school days, and it would always hold its place my heart. Austen's characters are always devastatingly good, and Emma is, for me, her best creation.

A House for Mr Biswas by V. S. Naipaul -- His masterpiece. I love the blend of comedy and tragedy, and every time I read it, I ache afresh for Biswas.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole -- The author committed suicide after failing to find a publisher for this book, which went on to win the Pulitzer after his mother persevered in getting the book into print. It is the funniest book I have ever read.

A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee -- I picked this up from a bookshop display, knowing nothing about it, and bought it on a whim. I started it on the train on the way home and then read it through the night. Lee's beautiful, understated prose is so finely controlled it makes me want to cry with envy.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- Scarcely need to explain this one.

Click here to read Ali's other five titles as well as an account of The Bell by Iris Murdoch, the book that Ali says most influenced her life.

--Marshal Zeringue