The Booker Prize Shortlist: Western Lane by Chetna Maroo, a Book Review

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Western Lane

Neelam Sharma
Author: Chetna Maroo


A coming-of-age story, Western Lane by Chetna Maroo, a Booker Prize shortlist for 2023, is the story of three sisters who are grappling with the loss of their mother’s death and primarily revolves around the youngest of them, Gopi, and her pursuit towards turning towards sports as a respite in the form of brute force training to not only overcome grief but also learn to come to terms with life. A profound exploration of grief, motivation and the true essence of life in its raw terms.

Losing a parent is not easy. Once we come into this wide world, we simply don’t hold on to the fingers of our parents; we hold onto their aspirations, fashioning ourselves along the way to the being they want us to be, channelling their spirit and zeal into our way of life.

It, therefore, becomes extremely difficult when, for any reason, death or otherwise, they are separated from us. How can one possibly proceed onto stranger tides without the guiding beacon of light?

I have always felt that what is more challenging is not the empathy or the doleful behaviour you meet with now and then; rather, it is perhaps the absence of that sole point of light in life that unsettles one when one loses one of their “guiding forces.”. Then again, the survivor’s guilt becomes a reality. What truly remains is the ability with which the person can pull themselves off the face of the catastrophe or loss and pull themselves back to life. Moving forward is truly the one significant thing in place of which nothing truly matters in the end. It is simply that you eventually begin to look through the dark cloud towards the weak sun that peeks beyond, waiting to burst like a cascade of pure positivity and the hope of a new tomorrow, full of promise and true adaptability.

In case you are wondering what has gotten me to be so candid, well, death has always been a truly fascinating ground for me. I mean, we all have thought about what happens after, where one goes next, and so on. But what about those whom the person leaves behind? Is there a foolproof, pre-set coping mechanism designed for us humans to counter and overcome the grief of such magnanimous proportions?

Dealing with such grief, overcoming it and choosing to see light at the end of the tunnel comes this novella titled “Western Lane” by Chetna Maroo, a Booker Prize shortlist and also a story that is truly close to my heart.

Yes, good things come in small packages. For me, I would say this small novella captured life at its deepest, finest essences so beautifully that I was spellbound by how Chetna managed to say so much between the lines, not only dunking us into melancholy but drying us amidst tiny little bubbles of hope along the way, braving us to pop and sprout within ourselves, the truest and bravest theories of life living in a raw tantalizing manner.

This being the story of Mona, Khush and Gopi-3 sisters who have lost their mother, Maroo here weaves a true “survival for the fittest” tale with the sisters not only coming to terms with the loss of their mother’s death but also moving on in life, taking it all in stride as they move forth.

Told from the youngest sibling’s perspective, aka Gopi’s perspective, this one also highlights her struggles, both as an aspiring athlete and as a child trying to resonate with the brutalities and harsh realities of life. 11-year-old Gopi, who has been playing squash right from the time she could hold a racquet, when her pa enlists her in a stringent training regime post her mother’s death as the game slowly becomes her forte’, her world, she also drifts apart from her own—her sisters, her comfort zone.

And yet, on the court, Gopi is simply another entity, unfrazzled by anything. For her, it is simply the serve, the volley, the drive of the shot, and most importantly, the game itself, above all else. Well, there is also Ged, a 13-year-old who shares more than her practice sessions and her game. As Ged and her Pa form an ally sort of force helping steer the young but stoic Gopi away from misery and focus more on her sport, there is such uncanny strangeness, humane revelations, sisterhood and most importantly, an unseen charge of sorts here that full force of it starts hitting you as soon as you dive deeper into the narrative.

Dealing with grief differently, this one revolves in a myriad of ways, exploring the lives of those who are a part of it in a much more fulfilling sort of manner. Yes, I felt it when the girls’ Aunt Ranjan showed that disciplinary edge to her persona, milling around them and sorting them like two peas in a pod. I could also feel that warmth exuberating when Uncle Pavan was a silent observer at times he needed to be and yet took the lead when he ought to have come to the forefront. Chetna weaves a lucid tapestry wherein she builds every character pretty intricately, delicately laying their fineries along the way nonchalantly, rather than splaying them across akin to “larger than life” kind of personalities whom you simply have to worship and look upon as idols.

No, life is not perfect; catastrophes are as evident as windfalls, and yes, we ought to keep learning and maturing at every curve. Understanding the need to “understand,” empathize with, and resonate with the situation is what I think is the key here, and one needs to be receptive to all aspects, choosing not to judge but rather taking life at its face value, in their stride, not judging but looking at the better picture. Gopi, an aspiring athlete, eventually learned to immerse herself thoughtlessly, fully, and uncompromisingly in her sport and what I deciphered towards the end was how even handling loss can be challenging, yet if one has the will and ability, one can truly turn the tide even in the face of grief. That is exactly what Gopi’s dad managed to do—inspire and motivate her to play through, despite the odds, mastering her craft to perfection. A truly exemplary example to depict, Maroo’s writing is captivating, compelling, as well as coyly emotional, making me pause and reminisce about the multiple lessons life intends to impart to us in this lifetime.

So, I hope you guys liked my book review of the Booker Prize Shortlist: Western Lane by Chetna Maroo.

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Keywords: Booker Prize Shortlist, Book review, Chetna Maroo

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