Edgware Road, Yasmin Khan’s debut fiction novel, is a tale about the lives of three individuals, spanning the streets of London to the Asian subcontinent.
Khan’s prose is wonderful – a real pleasure to read – and yet the novel isn’t quite able to facilitate the scope and ambition of its plot and characters.
Still, despite its flaws, Edgware Road is a good novel and well worth your time.
One of the three protagonists, Khalid is a Pakistani immigrant working as a croupier at Hugh Hefner’s infamous London Playboy Club. Shuffling cards by night, Khalid has big plans for his partner and daughter – dreams of Caribbean islands, diamonds and flash cars. However, despite knowing that the house always wins, Khalid has a gambling problem, staking his family’s future happiness at the expense of the present.
Meanwhile Alia is searching for clues following the disappearance of her father. In an endeavour to discover the truth, Alia’s travels take her from exploring the streets of London to connecting with distant relatives in Pakistan. A daughter of a post-partition Pakistani family now living in England, her complex heritage forms a significant part of her narrative.
Elsewhere, politician Arthur Denby seeks to unveil a political conspiracy surrounding the mysterious BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International). Based on a real historical scandal of the ‘80s in Britain, Khan uses Denby’s perspective to explore the political underworld of lobbying, sweetheart deals, and financial fraud.
These three narrative threads are interwoven into a compelling structure with some solid characters, each perspective alternating between 1987 and 2003.
It’s a great way to write a novel, especially one with complex family drama and political intrigue, keeping the reader guessing whilst adding flourishes of detail to the emerging plot.
Despite the pleasing prose, interesting characters, and smart structure, there are a few problems.
For a start, the novel feels far too short for the amount of plot and character development.
At 300 pages, relating three perspectives across two separate periods of time, Khan can only dedicate roughly 50 pages per character, per time period to build character and write a satisfying plot.
And whilst this would be entirely possible with more economical prose, the magic behind Edgware Road is its brilliant writing style. It’s a real pleasure to read, which is why it’s frustrating that there isn’t more of it.
Of course, word count isn’t everything. A shorter book like The Sound Mirror uses similar techniques surrounding multiple perspectives in separate time periods with far greater success.
However, the key difference here is that there are a large number of narrative threads opened by Khan, including Khalid’s involvement with the BCCI, Alia’s relationship with her family in Pakistan, Denby’s troubled home life – just to name a handful. These plot moments, amongst others, do not feel fully explored.
Pacing is also an issue. The first third of the novel is well paced, but the rest, from the middle section through to the conclusion, feels rushed. Alia’s on-off relationship with her flatmate goes nowhere, and whilst Denby’s perspective is an interesting one, he often reads like an afterthought and never quite earns his place in the story.
What results is an ending that feels wholly unsatisfactory, with Edgware Road unable to give its characters the closure they deserve – and that’s a real shame.
Whilst Edgware Road is a flawed debut, it’s still worth a reader’s time, particularly for fans of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which explore similar themes of the immigrant experience in London.
Unfortunately, Edgware Road doesn’t reach the depth of those novels, but the prose is lovely, and the characters, whilst lacking the depth they deserve, are a delight. It’s just a tad frustrating that such potential has been squandered.
Still, keep an eye out for Yasmin Khan’s future books – she’s a talented writer.
Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.