Brick Lane author Monica Ali has said it felt like an “obliteration of the self” when people were confused that she chose to write a novel about what might have happened if Diana, Princess of Wales had not died in a car accident, rather than about “brown people”.
The novelist said she became depressed when her 2011 book Untold Story was met with “bafflement”. She told The Big Issue: “I think I was really naive in thinking that I could write about whatever I wanted, like a white male writer can.”
Ali, who is of Bangladeshi and English heritage, gained national attention in 2003 with her debut novel, Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Booker prize and detailed the immigrant milieu of east London. Her fourth and most recent novel, Love Marriage, follows a 10-year gap in which Ali said she suffered a “catastrophic” loss of confidence.
She told the magazine: “Ten years ago I stopped writing. And then I got depressed. … And the depression made me less able to write and so it became this downward spiral. I lost my confidence.”
Ali said writing about “such a wide variety” of subjects following the publication of Brick Lane “confused people”.
“The response was bafflement. I remember one critic saying about Untold Story, ‘a curious marriage of author and subject matter’. People would ask ‘Are you trying to get away from something?’ To me the question they really seemed to be asking was ‘Are you trying to get away from brown people? Are you trying to get away from your ethnicity?’” Ali said.
“I understand that it confused people but … my mum’s white, my father’s Bengali, I was born in Dhaka but I’ve lived here all my life. So, I felt I was being entirely true to who I am. It’s taken me a lot of therapy to understand that, for me, that reaction felt like a kind of obliteration of the self,” she added.
“That sounds like hyperbole, but actually, I’m not exaggerating; this idea that I have to choose to be one thing or the other – it’s existential. I’m not one thing or the other, I’m both. And I’m glad to be both. So, I think that critical reaction made me feel things which went very deep, which led to the loss of confidence and depression and all of that.”