Meera Syal’s done a George R. R. Martin.
Syal’s writing may be more Ward End than Westeros but Martin can’t hold a candle to the British-Indian writer, actor and comedienne when it comes to keeping fans hanging between books.
This summer sees the release of Syal’s latest book, ‘The House of Hidden Mothers’ – her first in sixteen years.
Syal has (much like Martin) been busy with a myriad array of projects – from the TV show ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ to ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ at the National Theatre – but promises a welcome return to the earthy vibrancy and British Asian identity that made her debut novel ‘Anita and Me’ and its follow up, ‘Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee’ such phenomenally enjoyable reads.
‘The House of Hidden Mothers’ is set in the East End of London and tells the story of Shyama, a 44-year-old woman trying to find meaning in her life.
Shyama’s parents – Prem and Sita – live in an annexe at the bottom of her garden and she’s in love with a much-younger man.
Desperate to have a baby – despite having a 19-year-old daughter, Tara – Shyama and her lover enlist the help of Mala, a teenager from rural India, who agrees to become a surrogate.
Thus begins a powerful tale exploring issues that often cause discomfort for many in the British Asian community.
“Surrogacy is a sensitive topic but one I was keen to tackle because I was fascinated by it. My favourite book – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, focuses on outsourcing fertility and I’d also once seen a documentary on the popularity of surrogacy in India, which was incredibly moving.
“Many people don’t realise that the world’s centre for surrogacy is in fact India, because it’s so cheap and there are no restrictions. For me, the topic is a perfect area to delve into. It’s about women, it’s about the politics of women and fertility, it’s about India and Britain, and I was very inspired to write it.”
However, the issues don’t distract from an entertaining and uplifting story about inter-generational conflicts, love, laughter, awkwardness with an extraordinarily brave climax. As she did with her first two books, Syal appears to draw heavily on her own eventful life.
Syal may be known for a wonderful array of talents but her writing raises the question as to what may have been had she focused on writing and writing alone.
For now, fans – new and old alike – will be thrilled she’s finally back.