Shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize
A taut, enthralling first novel about grief, sisterhood, and a young athlete’s struggle to transcend herself.
Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters. Her life is reduced to the sport, guided by its rhythms: the serve, the volley, the drive, the shot and its echo.
But on the court, she is not alone. She is with her pa. She is with Ged, a thirteen-year-old boy with his own formidable talent. She is with the players who have come before her. She is in awe.
An indelible coming-of-age story, Chetna Maroo’s first novel captures the ordinary and annihilates it with beauty. Western Lane is a valentine to innocence, to the closeness of sisterhood, to the strange ways we come to know ourselves and each other.
"Maroo is deeply in tune with the sensory experiences of being on the court, from the sound of a ball ricocheting off the wall of an adjacent court to the “soft throbbing” through a player’s body when playing and hitting well . . . The lingering power of Maroo’s novel is the way she depicts the possibility that on the court, there is the chance to find some modicum of grace, however temporary.
—Spencer Gaffney, Washington Square Review
"Profoundly resonant . . . A remarkable book in how it deals with that time, drifting forwards, backwards, sometimes superimposing different moments upon each other. To that end, it also contains some of the best sports writing I’ve read since Eimear Ryan’s Holding Her Breath . . . In the act of making books, writers make choices on every line, with every word. This is a debut in which Chetna Maroo gets every choice right."
—Danny Denton, The Irish Times
"There is nothing hurried about squash. Watch Jahangir Khan between shots and it is as if he’s doing nothing. Maroo achieves something of this almost stillness, rhythmic quality and precision in her prose. Western Lane has a dreamy intensity . . . Gopi is steadily finding out what she can make of her feelings, of her life, of the people she meets and the heights she might aspire to."
—Norma Clarke, Times Literary Supplement
“Audacious in its quietness . . . Tune into its wavelength, though, and you hear a symphony of emotion. Through the half-understood exchanges and scenes her narrator recounts, Ms Maroo beautifully conveys the eddies of guilt and recrimination in a bereaved home, and the way feelings can be experienced as physical sensations.”
“This excellent debut lives in the small moments . . . Maroo’s calm, steady prose is so attuned to its subject matter it barely needs lyrical adornment . . . Few novelists write this simply and richly. With this gorgeous debut, Maroo blows most of the competition off the court.”
—Claire Allfree, The Times (UK)
"[Western Lane] feels like the work of a writer who knows what they want to do, and who has the rare ability to do it . . . Maroo has a talent for making the space she needs for emotional complexity by way of physical description."
—Caleb Klaces, The Guardian (UK)
“A rich correspondence between the rituals of grief and competition . . . Melancholy is only one of the moods of this short but brimming book. Squash is also a channel for Gopi’s rage; for connections with other players and her longsuffering father; and for a joyous kind of freedom of expression . . . Maroo’s writing achieves its most graceful rhythms and prescient insights. You’ll want to applaud.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Tight, affecting prose . . . The book slowly unearths its protagonist’s inner world as she swings and swats her way through grief . . . Her passion becomes a salve—even as the rest of her world threatens to fragment."
—James Tarmy, Bloomberg
"Has Maroo . . . written the first great squash novel?"
—Emily Donaldson, The Globe and Mail
“Polished and disciplined . . . The beauty of Maroo’s novel lies in [its] unfolding, the narrative shaped as much by what is on the page as by what’s left unsaid . . . In this graceful novel, the game of squash becomes a way into Gopi’s grief and her attempts to process it.”
—Ivy Pochoda, The New York Times Book Review
“A poignant illustration of the power of sports to help a family deal with grief—and each other—as they gradually make their way out of the darkness . . . [Maroo] is a marvelous and restrained storyteller.”
—Shahina Piyarali, Shelf Awareness
“Maroo’s tale traverses the complexities of one family with an understated beauty, simultaneously graceful and teeming with fierceness, much like Gopi on the court. It is a powerful coming-of-age story, a tale of growing up as much as a tale of grief.”
—Abeje Schnake, Booklist
“Compact and powerful . . . This will invigorate readers.”
“Subtle and elegant . . . Gopi’s retrospective narration accumulates slow layers of heartbreak as the story proceeds, patiently building up an entire landscape of emotion through gestures, silences, and overheard murmurings in the dark. A debut novel of immense poise and promise.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Starting off as an intimate tone poem, this story of a squash-obsessed teenager expands into something with the amplitude, depth, and ringing power of a great symphony. In other words—WOW. Western Lane is glorious. You’ll want to read it over and over again.”
—Aravind Adiga, author of Amnesty
“Combining the precision and the efficiency of an athlete with the mysteries of childhood loss and memory, Western Lane is a novel in which we linger on every breathing line and relish every close observation. What an exceptionally talented writer Chetna Maroo is!”
—Yiyun Li, author of The Book of Goose