Jonathan Cape, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, By Mohammed Hanif
Wednesday 26 October 2011
This is real life. That thing you slashed was a real cock." Alice Bhatti, a Christian nurse working in a dilapidated hospital in Pakistan's dusty, sprawling metropolis Karachi, barely thinks twice before putting a blade to her wealthy assailant's penis. She is anything but the underdog that her status in such a society would imply. Alice is no frail social outcast battling against Pakistan's misogynistic patriarchy and religious majority. Mohammed Hanif has penned his protagonist as a feisty yet compassionate ex-convict, who bludgeons a corrupt surgeon, tackles extremist Muslim girls at her nursing school, and cares for her patients with endearingly understated zeal.
Hanif's debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008), was a rambunctiously satirical political thriller. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is, by contrast, a fateful love story; but headstrong Alice is hardly the Juliet to police dogsbody Teddy Butt's chest-waxing, body-building Romeo. Nonetheless, something about him attracts Alice. Following an improbable surprise wedding aboard a submarine, Christian Alice and Muslim Teddy attempt to embark on a life of bliss. But things don't go exactly as planned, as both of their thorny occupations impinge dangerously on their personal lives.
Hanif's love story has a violently feminist agenda. Alice trudges through the daily rituals of sexual harassment on Karachi's streets, without a single day when she doesn't "see a woman shot or hacked, strangled or suffocated, poisoned or burnt, hanged or buried alive."
The wry narrative refreshingly resists all manner of stereotypes and flowery sentimentality. And much like the hypocritically conservative censorship of Pakistani society, the narrative reveals its dirty secrets in gradual fragments. But perhaps the novel's greatest strength is its characters – the minor ones as poignantly charged as the main. From Alice's eccentric and world-weary father to Noor, her hormonal teenage chum from the borstal whose mother is dying of cancer, all are flawed yet endlessly sympathetic. Equally, Hanif gives voice to a flawed nation lately much starved of sympathy. He paints a brutal reality, but certainly not one beyond redemption.
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word, TV review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest account of a woman enduring a still too common fate
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils