The world of law and literature feel like they should be worlds apart and yet there are a number of novelists who were originally lawyers. Some, like John Grisham or John Mortimer, write about the world of crime, justice and the legal system but others moved into genres as diverse as poetry, surrealist literature and satire. Oddly, I can find some Sci-Fi/Fantasy heavyweights who started out in the law (Terry Brooks, Guy Gavriel Kay and Adrian Tchaikovsky) which will hopefully bodes well for our occasional contributor Charlotte and, when I worked in a campus bookstore, we often had Alexander McCall Smith shelved in fiction, cosy crime and with medical law textbooks.
Hina Belitz is someone else who has taken the step from writing guides on employment law for the general public to writing fiction. And she has chosen not to write genre fiction, not crime or fantasy, but contemporary fiction. The story revolves around Mani and her brother Nu and how they cope with the problems life has thrown at them. These range from learning how to cope with a sudden move from Lahore to cold and foggy London to dealing with domestic abuse. They deal with suspicion and abuse because of Nu’s paler than usual skin colour, which leads to their flight from Lahore and, eventually, an attack which leaves their mother dead and Nu seriously injured. There are lighter moments with Mani and her best friend Jasmine, dreaming as all girls (whatever their heritage) are prone to of what life they will live when they are grown: this is balanced by the abusive treatment Mani receives when she is swept into marriage by a man who seems to offer everything she dreamt of – security, passion and a future.
Mani is a fascinating character who we see grow from an innocent child to a confident young woman (despite the efforts of her husband). What astounded me was that I kept having to remind myself that she is still only 17 or so at the end of the book – a child who should not have had to live through her ordeals but who has survived them with an impressive maturity. It would be easy to see the abusive relationships shown as just part of the culture Mani and Nu are born into – it is certainly part of it but we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t admit that abuse, of both women and children, is present in all corners of society.