With much of the action germinating in a distinctly unglamorous corner shop in a backstreet wasteland behind Hammersmith Station, Farooki’s novel bursts with the complexities of human dreams and a family that seems to be constantly on the brink of dysfunction. Zaki Khalil once dreamt of an unfettered life, free from petty concerns, reminiscences and ambition and unconcerned about the opinions of family, friends, or strangers.
Now amidst the close-clutter of the Khalil family’s corner shop, Zaki thinks
of his youthful life in Paris and his wasted dreams of being a Left Back
intellectual. A hopeless romantic, after all these years Zaki is still haunted by the ghost of Dhaka, his one true love, an Indian village beauty who died in a car accident in Paris.
Faced with relatively few options, Zaki was forced by his father to travel to London.
Here in the corner shop he meets his straightforward, uncoupled fate of an arranged life. While Zaki reminisces about what might have been,
his plucky grandson Lucky stares at his poster of Star Wars with a mixture of pride and sorrow and hopes that one day he will become a championship soccer player.
While fame is Lucky’s destiny, his mother, Delphine, battles over her misplaced marriage to Zaki’s son Jinin, a swarthy and handsome Bengali. With his gleaming cap of neatly cut hair, Jinin has become the corporate achiever, handling the stress of the job by comfort eating
and bickering with Delphine as she floats airily through the swish cafés and the smart shops of Knightsbridge, wondering what to do with the rest of her life.
Delphine questions her commitment to Jinin and to her marriage, ironically finding comfort in Zaki.
Through him the delicate balance of her forlorn life unexpectedly shifts, her discontentment evaporating as she feels both expectant and happy at reigniting the long-buried flames of passion. It is Zaki, not Jinin,
to whom she is most attracted, and she becomes coldly aware that she no longer feels the same toward her husband. Zaki “is the one that got away, that skipped out of the rat race.”
Like an innocent pool reflecting a stormy sky, Farooki’s characters are unaware of the trouble soon to be unleashed by the choices they make. While Zaki makes a radical choice and finds surprising solace in Coco, an errant red-haired
middle-aged rebel who sweeps him away to Las Vegas, Lucky’s romance to the beautiful but rebellious Portia provides some of the loveliest moments, his romance proving to be an effective counterbalance in his efforts to become a respected star of the English soccer field.
In a novel full of the different contexts of being human - and all of its permutations and prejudices - the author offers up the basic question: “Should I stay or should I go?” Farooki certainly captures the essence of the Khalil family, their fresh lust for life along with all of their insecurities and self-doubts. The book is readable and enjoyable, and mostly quite charming, with realistic life-situations and colorful central London acting as a dramatic backdrop. Yet somehow Corner Shop never rises above the mediocre or has enough of a gutsy plot to carry the action forward even as Farooki works hard to pepper her tale with a colorful cast of eccentric characters.