Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Clementine Oberst’s Thoughts:

Eleven-year-old Gopi’s father structures his three daughters’ lives around squash after the death of their mother. They practice for hours every day, their lives in the court more real than anything else. Gopi, the youngest, shows the most promise and the most dedication, slowly growing apart from her sisters as she nurtures her talent. Meanwhile, her aunt worries that the girls’ father cannot adequately raise them; the eldest sister, Mona, begins to take on immense responsibility around the home; and the middle sister, Khush, seems to be attempting to communicate with the spirit of their mother.

I’m sure everyone will describe this novella as “quiet”, and that’s an accurate descriptor. There isn’t any major action, and so much happens in the silences between these characters. The official blurb seems to suggest that the girls’ father is a hardass, but he’s actually very tender, adrift in his grief and others’ expectations of his daughters. The descriptions of the feeling of playing squash are really beautiful – the feeling of transcendence, the connection between mind and body, the way sport enables wordless communication, the sense of oneself and others on the court. I could see people finding this one too slow or subtle, but that’s what I loved about it – it takes real talent to conjure such emotional depths out of small moments and a series of omissions and gaps.

Should it make the shortlist? I’m honestly not sure! I still have so many to read and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are several with more wow factor, but I wouldn’t be mad to see it on the shortlist. I always love a novella on the shortlist, and something quiet but powerful can be a good addition as well. So… a tentative yes?

Alison Manley’s Thoughts:

After Gopi’s mother dies, her father’s focus on her squash playing intensifies. Her sisters are also first under this new regimen, but Gopi is the one who takes to squash. As they struggle silently in their new lives, the daily trips to Western Lane become the only thing that makes sense.

This is a really good novella, definitely on the sparse side, and I suspect it’ll be polarizing because there’s not a ton going on there. As a Booker longlist novel, it’s fine but I don’t think it’s quite enough. Maroo is a great writer, however, and I’ll be looking forward to more of her work!

Clementine Oberst is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in television studies. Born and raised in Toronto, she has lived in Montreal and Glasgow and now calls Hamilton home. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Clementine can be found knitting, trying to cultivate a green thumb, and playing with her cats. She loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book. You can connect with her on Instagram @clementinereads.

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Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.