In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

01 Aug

The wife brought this one home from the library and gave up after about a hundred pages. I, having just finished another book and needing something to read, decided to give it a try.

Within twenty or so pages, the book had already gotten on my nerves. The offense? Using specialized and technical language as if it’s something everyone ought to understand. In particular, the job titles, tasks, foods and other things associated with a somewhat high class restaurant’s kitchen. I understand that the characters all work in that kitchen, and thus would use that language. So for the sake of authenticity, they need to speak that language in the book. Still, the point of a book is to communicate, and descriptions of meals containing lists of ingredients I have ever heard of, and prepared in ways completely foreign to me, by people with titles that mean as much as random letters, well, that doesn’t really paint any pictures in my head. Granted, I’m not the most sophisticated guy in the world, but I can’t be the only person who had this issue.

Yet I kept reading. Not long into the book, the main character, who is the head chef at the restaurant, finds a dead body in a storeroom in the basement. In the same room, he finds a young immigrant girl. He takes the girl home to live with him. Given these events, I thought I was in for an exciting time. I expected the cops to infer that the dead body was the result of some kind of lover’s quarrel, and, since the girl was now with the chef, he must have been involved. In addition to the possible legal fun, at the same time the chef brought the immigrant home, he also had a girlfriend. As if these ingredients weren’t enough for a suspenseful story, some of the employees at the chef’s restaurant are involved with human trafficking. These expectations kept me going; I love books in which a normal person makes one decision that quickly destroys his life. That’s what this appeared to be.

Alas, nothing happened. In spite of all of those facts, this was one of the more boring books I have recently read. Somehow, all the interesting events become asides. Over the few hundred pages of the story, the body concerns maybe five or ten. The chef’s girlfriend does leave him, but it was anticlimactic. Most of the narrative involves the chef’s waffling over a secret deal with two other men to open a new restaurant. He also spends a lot of time anguishing over his relationship with his parents. His life does fall apart after finding the body and bringing home the girl, but only in the interior sense.

The external story wasn’t the only disappointment; the interior struggles didn’t lead to anything interesting, either. For instance, the chef and his parents, his mom, especially, have arguments about immigration. Yet nothing goes beyond the shallowest kind of thinking. She repeating urban legends and making generalized complaints about how the neighborhood was better before all the immigrants moved in; he babbling about diversity. No one asks hard questions or offers any insightful answers.

Even so, I made it to the end of the book. No excitement. No depth. In other words, probably a pretty good picture of real life. Which made it a rather boring book.

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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Fiction


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