Monday, 17 January 2011

Alentejo Blue

by Monica Ali

At first, I thought each chapter was a separate if open-ended short story, the only thing in common being the location. (Welcome to Mamarrosa, an “imaginary” but very much recognisable village in the heart of rural Portugal. Even there, the internet café is opening one day.) Then, little by little, the characters start to interact with each other until, in the final chapter, all of them and more congregate for a festa. This last chapter alone could be made into a hilarious play (it actually has a plot reminiscent of Gogol’s Ревизор).

Alentejo Blue is written better and is more interesting read than Brick Lane. But, all its shortcomings notwithstanding, I was sympathising with Brick Lane’s heroes. No such luck here. At best, inhabitants of Mamarrosa provide comic relief; otherwise, they are pathetic (especially British expats). It seems to me that the author was enamoured of the place but not of its people.

On her way to do the shopping Telma Ervanaria stopped off for a pastry and a cup of apple tea. Dona Linda was there, sitting at a computer and pulling her bottom lip inside out.
‘What is that you’re looking at, Dona Linda?’
‘It’s a bench in the main street of a village called Little Rock in Canada.’
Telma Ervanaria looked closer at the dark, grainy blur. ‘I can’t see anything at all.’
Dona Linda sighed. ‘That’s because it’s the middle of the night.’
The woman was obviously crazy. ‘Wake up, Dona Linda. It’s ten in the morning.’ Telma Ervanaria grabbed her arm and gave it a little shake.
‘There,’ said Dona Linda. ‘It’s the middle of the night there.’
‘It’s a photograph?’ said Telma Ervanaria, pulling up a chair.
Dona Linda shook her head. ‘It’s a film. There’s a camera fixed to a tree or a lamp post or something and it films everything that goes on. And it all gets sent through the air or the wires or something to every single computer in the world. Armenio explained how it works.’
Telma Ervanaria put her nose up to the screen and snorted. ‘But there is nothing going on. Oh! Little Rock, that’s where your daughter is.’
‘Little River. But I thought maybe they were close together. I mean, what if I see her walking down that street? She might sit on that bench.’
‘In the middle of the night?’
‘Telma Ervanaria, how do you think I raised my daughter? Of course not in the middle of the night.’

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