A dog's breakfast?

In The Kitchen by Monica Ali is an odd novel, that seems to be undecided as to what it is or what path it should take. Part-detective story, part-polemic against people trafficking, part-straight literary novel, part celebrity-cooking-backlash.

You see the problem? I loved Monica Ali's Brick Lane, and there are odd moments when it feels as though this novel should work, but it constantly falls short.

Gabriel Lightfoot is the head chef at a top London hotel. He is planning to jump ship and start up his own restaurant as chef-patron but his careful plans come crashing down when the night-porter is killed in an accident, and a whole new world of human-trafficking comes to light. At the same time Gabriel is struggling with the realization that his own childhood was not as transparent as he had always thought it was. His mother, who he had believed to be rather eccentric, was actually a manic-depressive, and there is a possibility that he too may have inherited her bi-polar genes. As his personal and professional lives collide Lightfoot begins his descent into mania.

Much of this story is unconvincing, the characters are unconvincing, often paper thin. The plot is all over the place, swaying backwards and forwards confusingly in time and place. So it's not worth reading? Well actually, surprisingly it is. The last third of the book is stunningly well written. Lightfoot's manic episodes are brilliantly written, alternately scary and funny with a heightened colour that adds a real immediacy to the events, and places the reader in Gabriel's skin. As a novel about mental illness it is stunningly good. It's just a shame that you have to wade through so much dross to get there.


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