I'm rather torn on how to review this book. I met with friends last night, before I'd finished it, and was ambivalent then too. I felt that my opinion would be strongly influenced by the ending. And it was.
Basically, this is the story of Nazneen. She grows up in a Bangladeshi village and then travels to England for an arranged marriage at 18. Her husband is Chanu - pompus, self-obsessed, talkative, ineffectual, irritating. He is a failure. Nazneen lives with him and their children in a high-rise flat in London. She learns to submit - although it does seem to come very naturally to her and she rarely rebels - and, I think, loves her husband.
Then she meets Karim - a young man, full of life and passion. And Nazneen has to grow up. One might say that she 'finds herself' and, indeed, she comments later 'that was before I knew what I could do.'
And the ending? After toiling through about 300 pages, the pace shifts dramatically. There are lost children, riots and absent husbands and the pages turned quickly. Was 'toiling' the best word? Parhaps not - I enjoyed the preceding pages. Monica Ali is an expert when it comes to characterisation and Chanu, in particular, will stay with me for a long time. I don't grudge the time I spent 'toiling'. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the read more if there had been more drama mixed with the day-to-day detail. But more drama would have lessened the impact of the last few chapters. Perhaps the sudden shift in pace could be seen as a metaphor for Nazneen's life - hum-drum, grey and boring and then, suddenly ...
But you'll have to read the book to make up your mind.