The Simple Life

From The New York Times:

Ali190_1 ‘Alentejo Blue,’ by Monica Ali

CALL it the prodigy’s paradox: If the world greets an author’s first novel with bear hugs and cries of “Huzza,” the second effort nearly always gets the cold shoulder, the suspicious look. Often, there are rumblings that the second novel might never have been published if not for the success of the first. But is that fair? Is it possible to judge a sophomore effort solely on its own merits?

The prodigiously gifted Monica Ali has found a way to sidestep this booby trap. Her second book, “Alentejo Blue,” a loosely interwoven collection of stories set in and around a Portuguese village, has so different a voice, tempo, mood and theme from her first book, “Brick Lane,” that the two seem to share no family resemblance, no authorial DNA. It’s almost as if they were produced by different writers.

“Brick Lane,” published three years ago when Ali was 35, is a sprawling yet tightly cohering novel, set in London and Bangladesh, that uses one woman’s unwieldy life to put a human face on the struggle between the first world and the third, Islam and secularism, tradition and modernity, fate and free will, men and women, youth and age. It’s the kind of achievement that entitles its creator to sit with her hands folded for the rest of her days, knowing she has produced a lasting work and need only write again if she really feels like it. Clearly, Ali feels like it. Her new book demonstrates her versatility and hints at the breadth and variety of her interests.

More here.