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Booker Longlist 2021: China Room

Sunjeev Sahota - China Room

Book 4 – read by 5 panellists and reviewed by Nicole, Anita and Susie

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days hard at work in the family’s ‘china room’, sequestered from contact with the men.

When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that will put more than one life at risk. Spiralling around Mehar’s story is that of a young man who in 1999 travels from England to the now-deserted farm, its ‘china room’ locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence — his experiences of addiction, racism, and estrangement from the culture of his birth — he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, finally finding the strength to return home.

Sunjeev Sahota is the author of Ours Are the Streets and The Year of the Runaways, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and won the Encore Prize, the European Union Prize for Literature, and the South Bank Sky Arts Award. He was chosen as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. He lives in Sheffield.

Nicole’s Thoughts: 

A structure we’ve seen a million times.  Check.

A story we’ve heard a million times.  Check. 

Nothing special about the writing. Check.

Booker nom? Wait, what? 

The only thing interesting about this book was the first part of the story of the women who lived in the China Room.  We had two perspectives – in my opinion, the 2nd perspective was all filler and thus what we had was half of a good short story.  It’s too bad because at first I thought I’d love this book.  The early perspective was interesting and unique, and then it just bubbled down into trite plot points.  Really disappointing.    

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 9.5/20

Susie’s Thoughts: What can I say. It was…ok I suppose? I mean, I didn’t hate it and there were parts where I felt entertained, particularly at the beginning, however it wasn’t enough that I’ll remember anything about it in a few months to be honest. The writing? Ok. The story? Ok in parts, but implausible in parts too which was disappointing for a book listed for a prize of this calibre. In my professional life I have spent a lot of time with heroin users and that story arc just didn’t ring true to me at all. I also found that there was an absence of theme. This is the Booker for goodness sake! There needs to be an underlying theme! I didn’t feel that there was any depth to the novel. Full disclosure that I listened to the audiobook, and the male narrator wasn’t a great fit for the tone of the story. I’m sure this impacted upon my overall experience. In the end, though, I can only rate based on my subjective experience, and I feel let down.

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: .5/2
Total: 8.5/20

Anita’s Thoughts: 

Is this book truly “Booker material”?  Probably not, but I absolutely loved reading it.  Two parallel tales of unrequited love, set in India (my personal favorite setting), just made me yearn for this book to be longer.  The story that is set in the past is the more developed and interesting of the two.  Three young women are married off to the three sons of a very shrewish, conniving mother-in-law, and none of them are quite sure which husband is theirs.  This set up is a prescription for disaster . . .the kind where you can’t look away.  So readable, but with wonderful cultural details.  Where I think the book falls short is it lacks thematic punch.  Great storytelling without the big ideas that a Booker prize winner usually delivers.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20


BookWorm’s Ratings

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

Tracy’s Ratings

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17.5/20

Rankings so far
No one is Talking about This 16.83
Second Place 16
Klara and the Sun 13.3
China Room 13.1

Well this certainly divided our panellists what did you think?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. thanks for the review. I was flirting with the idea of buying the book, but now I won’t waste my precious cash.


    August 19, 2021

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