By Norman Miller
BBC News Online
Monica Ali's debut novel Brick Lane has made the shortlist of the 2003 Booker Prize, which was announced on Tuesday.
Monica Ali's debut has become a huge hit in the UK
Famously catapulted onto the Granta best young novelists list before a word of this debut was published, Monica Ali has written a book that manages to be both wonderfully panoramic and heartrendingly domestic over its 400-odd pages.
Nazneen is a young Bangladeshi woman brought from the subcontinent to the East End as the wife of the much older Chanu. Without English, she inhabits a solitary world of cleaning, cooking and cutting her husband's corns.
The arrival of Karim, an intense young Muslim to whom she finds herself irresistibly drawn to, opens her up, while sharpening her view of the alien world around her.
Ali brilliantly uses Nazneen, a woman who for much of the book hardly leaves her flat, to create a richly evoked vision of modern Britain as well as a wonderfully subtle portrait of marriage.
As with Dickens, even the unsympathetic characters are beautifully drawn, most notably Nazneen's kindly tragi-comic husband, but also the likes of poisonous local loan shark Mrs Islam.
Ali also captures the cultural and political textures of Muslim Britain and beyond, especially through meetings of the local activist "Bengal Tigers" and letters from Nazneen's sister in Bangladesh.
Brick Lane is refreshingly old-fashioned - no high concept "literati" tricks, just a beautifully written story.