The loss of a mother is never easy. Amid the pall of gloom at home and the squeaking squash courts in the outskirts of London, Chetna Maroo’s Gopi (11), her sisters Khush (13), Mona (15),and their grieving father (Pa) envelop the readers instantly in their family fold. From chapter one itself, Western Lane gives you a peek into Luton’s close-knit Gujarati community. Pa is a reticent electrician. Perhaps, the weekly drive to the squash centre is his getaway from grief.
His daughters find catharsis on the squash court. The rigorous sports regime and energy-sapping shots probably help them forget the grief momentarily. Pa barely speaks to his kids.There is an underlying tension. An awkward silence. Maroo’s writing is subtle but extremely visceral and powerful. No wonder Western Lane,her debut novel made its way among the top 13 books in the 2023 Booker Prize long list. A statement by the Booker Prize2023 committee praising Maroo’s novel states: "Skilfully deploying the sport of squash as both context and metaphor, Western Lane is a deeply evocative debut about a family grappling with grief,conveyed through crystalline language which reverberates like the sound "of a ball hit clean and hard…with a close echo." The narrative is through young Gopi’s voice.The London-based Indian-origin author has an eye for ordinary details. The Indian diaspora in London, nosy relatives, class barriers, cultural differences, spilled chaas (buttermilk), and societal double standards.
Gopi’s Aunt Ranjanand her Uncle Pavan, a childless couple, who live in Edinburgh are keen on her moving in with them. Her aunt even tells it to her father over a family dinner but in vain.There is a sisterhood an denvy. With nobody else around to speak, Gopi channelizes her energies on squash – the powerful serve, racket swing, the echo of the balls, and the T-line. She drifts apart from her dad and sisters. There is dis-traction and solace in the form of Ged (13), the club manager’s son. He is her training partner. Ged stammers but is a formidable force on the court. Gopi is completely in awe of him.There is emotional distress, physical pain, solitude, longing, rejection, failures, and triumphs in Western Lines.There are blemishes and bruises but that is how life helps squash grief and heal a wounded heart.