Londonstani Hype Machine Revs Up

In the Times, Zoe Paxton tries to find out if Gautam Malkani’s much-hyped Londonstani is ‘authentic’ by visiting a class of teenagers from Hounslow, West London–where the novel is set:

Two weeks before its publication, the book is already notorious for two things: the money and the language.The centre of a huge bidding war at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year, it was bought by Fourth Estate for a six-figure advance (the rumour is £380,000).

Why the fuss? Mainly because Londonstani is written in a head-spinning, expletive-rich mixture of Asian street slang, text-speak, MTV talk and bastardised Punjabi that supposedly reflects the patois of West London Asian gangs. By writing in dialect, Malkani has set himself a tough task; it has worked for Roddy Doyle and Irvine Welsh, but critics had their doubts about the dictated letters in dialect that appeared in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane.

That’s not a very apt comparison. The issue with the chapters written in Hasina’s point of view in Brick Lane is this: Hasina presumably writes her letters in Bengali, her native language, and the novelist renders them for us in English. And yet the language of the letters is a pidginized English, which is a rather odd stylistic choice. But based on the description of Malkani’s book, he’s actually trying to approximate the dialect of English that these kids are using. In any case, Paxton leaves the class with reassurances from the kids that the author had gotten it right even if “you would never, ever write these words down.”

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