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In the Kitchen
Synopses & Reviews
Monica Ali, nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, has written a follow-up to Brick Lane that will further establish her as one of England's most compelling and original voices.
Gabriel Lightfoot is an enterprising man from a northern England mill town, making good in London. As executive chef at the once-splendid Imperial Hotel, he is trying to run a tight kitchen. But his integrity, to say nothing of his sanity, is under constant challenge from the competing demands of an exuberant multinational staff, a gimlet-eyed hotel management, and business partners with whom he is secretly planning a move to a restaurant of his own. Despite the pressures, all his hard work looks set to pay off.
Until a worker is found dead in the kitchen's basement. It is a small death, a lonely death — but it is enough to disturb the tenuous balance of Gabe's life.
Elsewhere, Gabriel faces other complications. His father is dying of cancer, his girlfriend wants more from their relationship, and the restaurant manager appears to be running an illegal business under Gabe's nose.
Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman with mysterious ties to the dead man. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision, the consequences of which strip him naked and change the course of the life he knows — and the future he thought he wanted.
Readers and reviewers have been stunned by the breadth of humanity in Monica Ali's fiction. She is compared to Dickens and called one of three British novelists who are "the voice of a generation" by Time magazine. In the Kitchen is utterly contemporary yet has all the drama and heartbreak of a great nineteenth-century novel. Ali is sheer pleasure to read, a truly magnificent writer.
"Signature Reviewed by Patricia VolkArestaurant kitchen is a functional substitute for hell. Flames leap, plates fly — knives and fingers, too. They're also the default place immigrants, legal and otherwise, find work. At London's Imperial Hotel, the setting for Monica Ali's In the Kitchen, nobody speaks the same language and everybody is underpaid. Ali, acclaimed author of Brick Lane, nails the killer heat, killer fights and lethal grease buildup, all of it supervised by a 'simmering culinary Heathcliff,' Gabriel Lightfoot, executive chef.Lightfoot dropped out of school at 16 to begin paying his kitchen dues, working crazy hours with crazy people while studying food chemistry and Brillat-Savarin. Along the way, he picked up scarred hands and a ravaged psyche. At 24, given his own restaurant, it went straight up his nose. Now, almost 20 years later, two wealthy Londoners have agreed to back Gabriel in a new restaurant, Lightfoot's, where he'll serve 'Classic French, precisely executed. Rognons de veau dijonnaise, poussin en cocotte Bonne Femme, tripes la mode de Caen.' In postmodern balsamic-drenched London, Gabriel is confident traditional French is poised for a comeback. Then the naked corpse of a Ukrainian night porter is discovered in the Imperial's basement, his head in a pool of blood. There is no one to claim the body. The ripple-free effect of a human death unhinges Gabriel. He develops a voluptuous need to self-sabotage. Visual manifestations include a Dr. Strangelove arm tic, shaking limbs and violent bald-spot scratching. Gabriel cheats on his fiance and lies to his lover. The story is told in the third person, but through Gabriel's point of view. Intimacy juggles distance: 'After a certain point, he could not stop himself. His desire was a foul creature that climbed on his back and wrapped its long arms around his neck.'Ali is brilliant at showing loss and adaptation in a polyglot culture. Her descriptions of the changing peoplescape are fresh. But inside Gabriel's head is not the most compelling place to be. A tragic nonhero, he thinks with his 'one-eyed implacable foe.' It does not help that a recurring dream crumbles him, and since Gabriel doesn't understand the dream, neither does the reader. It assumes an unsustainable importance. You can play Freud or you can turn the page.Ali is not plot-averse: she provides a mysterious death, a hotel sex-trade scam, a slave-labor scheme, missing money and a dying parent. Yet Lightfoot is a character in search of a motive. It's a tribute to Ali that we care. Here is a true bastard, ravaged and out of control. In the Kitchen has the thud and knock of life — inexplicable, impenetrable, not sewn up at all. As Gabriel's lover is fond of saying: 'Tchh.' (June) Patricia Volk is the author, most recently, of the memoir Stuffed and the novel To My Dearest Friends(both from Knopf). Two mass market series openers explore the bloody side of tattooing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
When Monica Ali burst onto the scene in 2003 with her brilliantly imagined, nimbly fashioned, powerfully rendered "Brick Lane," critics marveled that a raw first novelist could produce such a Dickensian display of literary skill and human wisdom. The novel — in which Nazneen, a teenage girl, travels from Bangladesh to London to seal an arranged marriage and wed a much older man — was shortlisted... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) for the Man Booker Prize and translated into dozens of languages. Monica Ali became an instant sensation, the darling of multicultural circles, a sure successor to Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie. Exposing the harsh world of immigrant sweatshops in East London, "Brick Lane" raised Muslim hackles and charmed the crustiest of literary critics. Germaine Greer denounced it. Prince Charles defended it. James Wood called it a great and daring literary achievement. The future seemed bright and boundless for Monica Ali. Her second novel had a different trajectory: "Alentejo Blue," a string of loosely conjoined stories about English characters adrift in a Portuguese village, seemed listless and pale by comparison. Publishers Weekly called it "a dirge." "All too random," mourned Bookmarks. "Unrelentingly depressing," came the verdict in The Washington Post. Whereas "Brick Lane" had climbed U.S. best-seller lists and sold more than 200,000 copies, "Alentejo Blue" squeezed out a mere 6,000 in sales. If nothing else, Ali had proved she could shift gears. She had bucked the impulse to write the same book and pander to the market. She had left Bangladeshi neighborhoods, moved on. In her latest novel, "In the Kitchen," Ali bravely moves on again. And, once more, she does so with mixed results. The setting this time is the Imperial Hotel, a venerable but decaying London establishment. The hero is Gabriel Lightfoot, a middle-aged chef on the cusp of too many changes: His father, a retired North England mill-worker, is dying of cancer, yet Gabe's life seems poised for success. He is about to propose marriage. If he can hang on just a few more weeks, a bold career leap beckons. For all the obstacles a grueling life in the kitchen can offer, Gabe seems to have all the right instincts. He's made mostly good decisions. He knows what it takes to run a tight restaurant. He is in love with a green-eyed jazz singer who returns his affections. He has saved enough — made enough contacts — to leave the Imperial and open his own place. But by the time we know this, a dead body lies in Gabe's way. "When he looked back," we read in the book's very first sentence, "he felt that the death of the Ukrainian was the point at which things began to fall apart." Yuri, the night porter, is found in the hotel's moldering basement, his bloody corpse a herald of more disaster to come. What follows will forever alter Gabriel Lightfoot's world. So far, so good. It's a great start for a potboiler, an opening with all the ingredients: a hectic kitchen, a budding love, a possible murder and one man's simmering, rising ambition. Except that it takes 200 more pages for the heat to kick in. Let's forget for a moment those first 10 or so chapters of endless verbiage. Before the story is over, the reader will encounter a prostitution ring, a tiny, birdlike lover, a tragic immigrant world that lies just beyond the walls of the grand Imperial. When all is fully told, no one will be exempted from that world. Least of all the flawed man at the center of the tale. But Ali's novel creeps along like your grandmother's knitting. You wind through passages like this: "The walls were covered in fleur-de-lis wallpaper in a richly subtle color somewhere between silver and beige. ... Overall the effect was not displeasing though somewhat precariously contrived. ... A party of women — polished skin, boucle and velvet, liver-spotted hands — set down their forks and exclaimed." It weaves ahead through cliches and repetitions, protracted and pointless conversations, until you reach page 150: The tiny, birdlike prostitute is now in Gabe's bed, the hotel manager is conducting shady business with housekeeping, our hero is spiraling into madness, his father is in cancerous freefall, and the beautiful jazz singer is fit to be tied. Like flares in a night sky, those turns in the story urge you on. Then on page 241 you stumble on this arresting sentence: "London was all belly, its looping intestinal streets constantly at work, digesting, absorbing, excreting, fueling and refueling, shaping the contours of the land." You've gotten this far because you read "Brick Lane," believed that its author deserved her laurels, suspected this novel is worth your time. And here, finally, begins your reward. For the next 200 pages until you reach the last sentence, you won't be able to put the book down, turn off the light. Ali hits her stride. If you're curious about contemporary literature, you'll read this overcooked novel. You'll skip through the sludge of the early chapters. You'll forgive Ali for going too far, breaking the rules: You'll overlook her narrator's weird lurch into madness (not allowed, unless your name is Dostoyevsky). You'll shrug off the repellent seductress (ill-advised, no matter who you are). You'll forget that there are too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough feasts on the table (where, oh where, is the monumental macaroni of Giuseppe di Lampedusa? Or the bright cheeses and crisp biscuits of Iris Murdoch?). Because, by the end, all the plates are spinning. And then, voila, there's dessert. Marie Arana, a former editor of The Washington Post Book World, is currently a Kluge Scholar at the Library of Congress. Her most recent novel is "Lima Nights." She can be reached at aranam(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Marie Arana, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Booker Prize-shortlisted author Monica Ali's long-awaited second novel brings readers into the vivid world of a London restaurant kitchen.
From the award-winning, critically acclaimed, and bestselling author of Brick Lane, her long-awaited second novel, a stunning story about a man in crisis.
Just as she did inBrick Lane, Monica Ali again brings read- ers into a rich and fascinating London subculture, this time the intoxicating world of chefs and kitchen denizen from every culture and class in London.
Surrounded by the fading glory of the Imperial Hotel, embattled Executive Chef Gabriel Lightfoot tries to maintain his culinary integrity in the hotel’s restaurant, while manag- ing an unruly but talented group of immigrant cooks. His goal is to please the management of the hotel, and to move on to ownership of his own place. But when the dead body of a Ukrainian porter is discovered in the restaurant cellar, the tenuous balance in Gabe’s life begins to shift. Adding to his stress, Gabe’s father is diagnosed with cancer, his girlfriend starts talking about a new level in their relationship, and the investors in his new business are monitoring his every move. Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman mysteriously tied to the death of the porter. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision the consequences of which irrevocably change the course of the life he knows—and the future he thought he wanted.
Ali, named one of the twenty best young British writers by Granta, was nominated for the Booker and Los Angeles Times book prizes and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has written an absolutely extraordinary novel that will delight readers of Brick Lane and further establish her as one of Britain’s most talented and original voices.
About the Author
Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She has been named by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists. Brick Lane won BarnesandNoble's Discover Award for New Writers and Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award. It was translated into thirty languages. She lives in London with her husband and two children.
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