Red Wheelbarrow Book Reviews
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Alentejo Blueby Monica Ali
Large C format published by Doubleday UK available at RWB
If you are hoping to find the author of Brick Lane, forget it. Monica Ali has taken a
holiday from East London and gone to rural Portugal, to the Alentejo region to be
specific. You will find yourself among the poor, the drunk, the weird. Among
tourists and natives, expats mostly Brits. The book is episodic, the chapters not
necessarily related, themes not clear, forget about development.
What Ali has retained from her former success, is her language. She has a way with
words that is almost magical. I was reminded of Malcolm Lowry's Mexico when she takes
us to the local bar and shows us its customers. Her talent evident for description of
people and countryside.
The novels centers on a poor village, Mamarrosa, where what little happens, happens.
"In this sludge of discontent" we find some bizarre characters but we never get enough
of them to get to know them. China and Chrissie: he drinks and she is just plain
miserable, their daughter the local tart, their son who never goes to school; Stanton,
the writer from London who wants to finish a novel but alcohol gets in his way; we
have two temporarily visiting couples who are given short shrift. There are others
but not one is ever seen in depth. Their relationships are purely geographic.
Themes are evoked, never developed. Politics, moral ethics, love and faith, all make
their appearance but only perfunctorily. The novel is a disappointment and one can
only hope that Monica Ali has indeed taken a holiday in Portugal and will return home,
refreshed and ready to settle down to write the book we have all been expecting from