Author: Meera Syal
Details: (c) Chestwick & Flares Productions Ltd 1999; Pub Black Swan Books 2000; ISBN 0-552-99952-0
Verdict: Well done in a light, frothy way
Reasons for reading it: Basically, good press when it was published a couple of years ago. And also because I'm gullible enough to have forgotten that ethnic chick-lit trash is still chick-lit trash.
This is at least partly due to the fact that I feel a quite unjustified affinity with Life isn't's second and third generation immigrants caught between cultures in the East End. I have no East End credentials whatsoever (given that my father's family ended up in Liverpool and my mother's, even back in the 17th and 18th century when they 'came over', were already thoroughly middle class). I don't really identify with the immigrant experience either, as all four of my grandparents were born in England. Then again, I am the sort of person who says all four of my grandparents were born in England, and the whole immigrant and East End culture is very much part of my mythology.
How it came into my hands: Library
Life isn't all ha ha hee hee is certainly readable, and while generic, is considerably better than much of the genre. One thing that makes LiaHHHH stand out is its humour; as a generalization, chick-lit tends to take itself deadly seriously, while lad-lit feels obliged to crack scatalogical jokes at emotionally significant moments. This falls somewhere in between, and I think is very successful in doing so.
The language occasionally sparkles, and there are some quite profound insights in amongst the standard cliched story of heroine's husband has affair with her best friend. The 'ethnic' setting was never obtrusive, but always plausible; as with the film Bend it like Beckham, I strongly recognized some aspects of the generational / immigrant versus English born / religious versus secular conflict and other aspects of the culture came across as foreign.
The main weakness of LiaHHHH was that the motivations of Deepak and Chila never seemed entirely convincing. Sunita and Tania are pretty much types; Sunita the harrassed housewife who has given up a promising career for a good, but not exceptional, marriage, and Tania the beautiful, unscrupulous career girl who nevertheless has real tenderness for her close female friends. Both reasonably well done, but types, all the same.
Chila, however, appears to be pretending to be stupid to the point of retarded, while in fact being of above average intelligence, and there's no clear plot reason why she would be doing this, beyond some very vague suggestion about conflict avoidance. There are hints that Deepak is rather violent / agressive, but again, no real specifics of why he's supposed to be so dangerous, or why in fact he chose to marry Chila in the first place.
I was also disappointed that the ending is the standard chick-lit conclusion: men are bastards but everything is redeemed by the perfection of female friendship. Oh well, I enjoyed reading LiaHHHH, even if it's nothing exceptional.