Reviews of Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani, spot the common denominator:
(The Independent): There are a number of reasons to feel dubious about Londonstani. First up, it’s marketed as a street-level transmission from elusive old multicultural Britain, that El Dorado of the publishing world that publishers claim, year after year, to have located in yet another sluggish tale of love and loss in London. Second, it’s a story of teenage rudeboys on the streets of Hounslow that’s written, somewhat paradoxically, by the Cambridge-educated editor of the Financial Times Creative Business pages. Third, it’s narrated in an admixture of txtspk, gangsta rap and various forms of slang (“U hear wot ma bredren Jas b chattin?”) that will baffle non-Playstation generations and make anyone sigh who ever raised an eyebrow at Irvine Welsh.
(Scotsman): GAUTAM Malkani had already been branded the Asian Irvine Welsh months before his debut novel, Londonstani, swaggered on the scene.
(The Times Online–they had fun, they took Londonstani off to Miss Coakley’s sixth-form English class to see how it would fly): Although Londonstani does not shy away from difficult storylines — painful marriages, cross-cultural violence, religious tension, suicide — something in Malkani’s portrayal is a touch simplistic. It may be a side-effect of the linguistic restrictions that he has imposed on himself, but there is a cartoonish element in the incessant chat, and a distinct lack of character development that makes the more serious threads hard to follow. It is not necessarily an unfamiliar ear that holds you back; you don’t have to be a Dubliner to love Roddy Doyle or a skag-head to enjoy Irvine Welsh. It could have been the same with Londonstani.
And have the reviewers reached a verdict, Milord?
It begins badly. Very badly, like this:- Serve him right he got his muthafuckin face fuck’d, shudn’t b callin me a Paki, innit.
After spittin his words out Hardjit stopped for a second, like he expected us to write em down or someshit. Then he sticks in an exclamation mark by kickin the white kid in the face again.
– Shudn’t b callin us Pakis, innit, u dirrty gora.
It’s hateful, that sort of opening. It says: look at me, see how tough I am, how real, how the label “hard-hitting” was made for me, see how much attention I paid in sixth-form creative-writing classes when the teacher told us that an arresting opening was important.
It says much for the effectiveness of the opening chapter of Gautam Malkani’s much-hyped debut that, within a few pages, I was prepared to shut out those alarm bells and simply fall into the world of the novel.
It is, to start with, gripping stuff….The voice introduced in this opening chapter is a fascinating one: a narrator whose former friends are “coconuts” (brown outside, white inside), who wants more than anything else to be accepted by the “rudeboys” and to scrub off everything – diction, friends, former mentors, education – which remains of his previous life. It’s a story about certain myths of masculinity that both attract and weigh upon young men, warping their relationship with the world. Ethnicity gives this narrative a particular context, but it is not a story about migrant communities, no matter what the hype might suggest. It is clear early on that gender rather than ethnicity is at the heart of this novel.
Unfortunately, Londonstani largely fails to live up to the promise of the opening chapter.
There is both danger and irony in the way that Asian writers are being treated. The danger is that claims of authenticity are easily challenged. Monica Ali’s Brick Lane was criticised by some of those living in east London as being inaccurate; Ali herself was berated for not coming from Brick Lane itself (although Ali never claimed to be anything other than who she was). Tony White, on the other hand, was not challenged on why he had chosen to write about young Bangladeshis, and no one asked white film director Saul Dibb what gave him the right to depict the world of gun crime among London’s young blacks in Bullet Boy. Will anyone question Dominic Savage’s credentials to make his film Love + Hate, in cinemas from Friday, which concerns a love affair between a Muslim girl and a white skinhead? If you are white and middle-class, it seems, you are allowed to be an artist; if you are Asian, you must be authentic.
The irony is that while the media craves authenticity and wants, for example, to hear the genuine voice of disaffected Muslim males, these youths are usually neither able or willing to tell their stories. Next week’s Bradford Riots was not written and directed by the kind of working-class Pakistani Muslim around whom the drama revolves, but by Neil Biswas, who is undoubtedly talented but is an Oxford-educated Hindu Bengali living in London.