Debut novel is like reading a Prince album in West London slang.

The publisher claims that Gautam Malkani's Londonstani is "hilarious," but it's hilarious in the same way that the Sahara is marshy and duck infested. It's also not "disturbing," another word plastered on the jacket, unless you find reading about Anglo-Indian teens' clashes with their tradition-bound families disturbing. Rather, Londonstani is merely a decently plotted debut novel about a gang of "rudeboys" growing up in West London; they're joined by Jas, the narrator, who gets more and more involved in the gang's petty theft, brawling, and posturing. He loves it, until everything comes to a head, leaving him beaten up and in deep, deep trouble. The main issue here, of course, is assimilation, or the lack thereof, and Malkani displays the usual weaknesses of a first-time author, driving his point home with expository lectures and lines like "doing something cos it's tradition, cos it's the way things are done, is the shittest reason ever to do something." Still, the book saunters along at a decent pace, partly because, like the more skilled Irvine Welsh and Anthony Burgess, Malkani makes every effort to write in the actual lingo of his young characters. Face it; if you're unwilling to try to parse a sentence like "Wat'd'fuck's wrong wid'chyu 2day, bwoy?" you have no business here. (Inexplicably, Malkani styles "to" and "you" as "2" and "u," even in dialogue—what is this, a Prince song?) And then the ending throws everything off. Malkani closes with a clever finale that makes you rethink the entire book; that's interesting and unexpected. The problem is that he springs the surprise on you two pages before the end of the novel, leaving no room for post- climax resolution. Also, more criminally, he completely bails out on the main plot after lobbing his narrative grenade (see "no resolution," above). You finish Londonstani with the same cheated, letdown feeling you get when you find out that the unseen aliens in Signs are just guys in floppy green rubber suits. Total cop-out, bwoy.

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