Monica Ali Gets Mixed Reaction

Libraries are showing substantial holds on 20 copies or less of Monica Ali’s In the Kitchen, but critics are ambivalent about her third novel, after Alentejo Blue and her popular debut Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The new book focuses on the metal breakdown of the head chef in a fading London hotel with a multinational staff of immigrants and refugees that’s a metaphor for the cultural crisis of modern Britian.

The Wall St. Journal published a respectful profile of Ali yesterday that made the book sound enticing, but the newspaper’s review of her new book was more scalding:

Ms. Ali brings a lively intelligence to her work, and her account of Gabriel’s mental breakdown, set against shifting scenes of London, is vivid and well done. “In the Kitchen” is ambitious, but with its one-dimensional characterizations and laggardly pace—it’s too long at 436 pages—this novel is, ultimately, hard to digest.”

Time was a bit more generous in its brief mention of Ali’s novel in a piece on books about the restaurant world, declaring that Ali “gets the kitchen just right: the crushing pace, the fistfights, the grills and griddles and salamanders, the guy who’s always walking around with a leek hanging out of his fly.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer review balanced criticism of the “oddly-neutralizing, drama-killing” effect of watching the main character go bonkers with appreciation for the “tender, psychologically-charged” flashbacks of that character’s boyhood, which lingered with the reviewer “long after the big social issues were digested and forgotten.”

In the Kitchen: A Novel
Monica Ali
Retail Price: $26.99
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Scribner – (2009-06-16)
ISBN / EAN: 141657168X / 9781416571681

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