I'd heard about Monica Ali's debut, Brick Lane, years ago. I keep meaning to read it, just as I do Zadie Smith's White teeth. Should do that soon.
Last night, I had the opportunity to watch Brick Lane on C4, which I duly did. It wasn't bad, but it was lacking the depth that the novel is purported to have - e.g., I have very little understanding of why she had ANY attachment to the husband she had been made to marry, as he is irresponsible, disrespectful, spoilt and a complete chauvinist. There was very little about her network of female friends so touted in the novel and no real understanding of how her self-realisation came to blossom. What drove her? What made it unfold? We see *one* shot of her after what I only later understood to be a nervous breakdown, then she was fine again. Often a problem with scripts, but that's the reason you grab Monica Ali and sit her down with the scriptwriter.
Having said that, there were places where it really hit home.
The first place, right near the beginning of the film, was the most unexpected and the most difficult. She is in bed, clearly uncomfortable, her husband is half-asleep beside her. Then, his hand moves to her unresponsive hand. The tension building up in me should have warned me what was coming. It didn't.
When he (much bigger than she was) rolled over on top of her and did his business whilst she remained completely unresponsive, I was taken back to being underneath my uncle with such vividness and force, it was like being punched in the solar plexus: I doubled over and couldn't look at the screen. It was so bad, I actually thought I was going to have to go worship at the altar of the porcelain god, which is criminal if you haven't had the drink (and fun) to deserve it.
For those of you who don't know what it's like, for me, a flashback is being there. I can see my childhood bedroom furniture (light yellow), feel my uncle's breath in my hair, feel him pinning me down. I actually forget to breathe. It's usually better if someone is with you - just like it's nice to have someone hold your head/hair when you're about to throw up - but 9 times out of 10, you're alone, and in the end, you go through the experience alone no matter who is with you, so you need to learn to handle it on your own.
I'm out of practice because it has been YEARS since it was anywhere near this bad (now it just tickles the edges of my brain when it does make the rare return), but fortunately, a small part of me always remains present and says, "Breathe. 1 and out, 2 and out, 3..." It takes some time, but it works, as it did last night, though the aftereffects linger: last night, I was seriously shaken and felt a bit out of it; today, I'm probably a bit difficult to touch unless you're a very good friend. But, as always, this too shall pass.
Yes, it was awful while it lasted, and the aftereffects aren't great, but I think it was probably a 'good' thing in the end: I'd fallen into a sense of complacency about having dealt with every aspect of that, since I've watched all sorts of sex scenes and been physically close to men without any problems for years. This was a heads up that I haven't and that I need to do some more work in that area; that it may have effects that I'm not seeing. So, thank you, Brick Lane, for making me sit up and pay attention.
Crikey. /derail. Sorry about that.
The second scene that really hit me was the scene where the heroine's mother just walked into the river until she drowned. Having felt trapped and strangled enough by the culture to consider suicide, even after having been born and raised in the West, I felt that. (Those of you that don't know the Irim bin bag/balcony story, ask me when you see me, or the next time we're out for a drink.)
That tied into the claustrophobia I felt through the rest of the film, with the small flat, the nosy neighbours, her husband's invasiveness and sneering misogynistic comments, the lover's demands. The script may have been thin on the relationship front, but it caught the feel of the narrowness of a South Asian woman's life beautifully. Nazneen's coming into her own, not least through the aegis of her Westernised daughters ("Amma, TELL HIM" being one of the most moving scenes in the film), is wonderful to see, though it isn't nearly developed enough in the film.
I did, however, roll my eyes at the following quote near the end:
No one told me there are different kinds of love. The kind that starts deep and slowly wears away. That seems you will never use it up and then one day it is finished. Then there is the kind that you do not notice at first. To which adds a little bit to itself everyday. Like an oyster makes a pearl… grain by grain.
In the film, at least, that was meant to mean "the first was the passionate love I had with my lover, the second, the love I share with my husband, you know, the one where I can't bear to have him touch me. The real stuff of marriage."
That was the second time I nearly went to worship at the altar of the porcelain god, and let me tell you, I'd have felt it was justified.
Bad Monica. No Monica biscuit. I should SLAP you, Ms Ali, for perpetuating that myth of 'passionate love bad, pasionless love good'. Instead, I'm going to write a blog entry about the big, deep, passionate love that adds to itself every day - key example, the Obamas, who have been married for 16 years and made me feel like a voyeur when I looked at their Ebony shoot. Big, deep love that gets deeper and is HOTTER than hell. In fact, judging from pics, it's hotter now than it was on their wedding day. I love it.
But that's another entry. And I should kick your ass for a forced, too neat passage like that. But another time. I will, however, say thank you. Thank you for making me think, for making me feel those things I don't want to feel but need to, for reminding me of what is beautiful about South Asian culture, for giving me plenty of material for future blog entries (sorry, folks). I'll be picking up the book soon.
The film is redeemed by the fact that Nazneen and her daughters end up on their own: she says no to Karim, her lover, and Chanu goes back to Bangladesh without them, leaving her - them - to find their own way, not somebody else's.
Which is how it should be.