Our Lady of Alice Bhatti
'A tragicomedy of Shakespearean proportions' - Time Out
From the author of the award-winning, critically-acclaimed debut, A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
The patients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments are looking for a miracle, and Alice Bhatti is looking for a job. Alice is a candidate for the position of junior nurse, grade 4. It is only a few weeks since her release from Borstal. She has returned to her childhood home in the French Colony, where her father, recently retired from his position as chief janitor, continues as part-time healer, and full-time headache for the local church. It seems she has inherited some of his gift.With guidance from the working nurse's manual, and some tricks she picked up in prison, Alice brings succour to the thousands of patients littering the hospital's corridors and concrete courtyard. In the process she attracts the attention of a lovesick patient, Teddy Bunt, apprentice to the nefarious ‘Gentleman Squad' of the Karachi police. They fall in love; Teddy with sudden violence, Alice with cautious optimism.Their love is unexpected, but the consequences are not. Alice soon finds that her new life is built on foundations as unstable as those of her home. A Catholic snubbed by other Catholics, who are in turn hated by everyone around them, she is also put at risk by her husband, who does two things that no member of the Gentlemen Squad has ever done – fall in love with a working girl, and allow a potentially dangerous suspect to get away. Can Teddy and Alice ever live in peace? Can two people make a life together without destroying the very thing that united them? It seems unlikely, but then Alice Bhatti is no ordinary nurse... Filled with wit, colour and pathos, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a glorious story of second chances, thwarted ambitions and love in unlikely places, set in the febrile streets of downtown Karachi. It is the remarkable new novel from the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
"Belly-laugh-inducing. Sam Lypsyte funny. Faulty-Towers funny.The silliness is anarchic and profound…a ripping story and a rowdy piece of art" - New York Times
"Hanif's storytelling is frequently impressive... touching and unusual" - Faith Brinkley, Literary Review
"Perhaps Pakistan's brightest English-language voice... Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is certainly not allegorical - it has too much unruly life of its own to fit smoothly into any neat political scheme - but it is somehow representative, broadly suggestive of the sad state of a nation... The novel is full of fine little touches that are never pushed too far... For too many writers the poor are grim decorations or zoological curiosities; Hanif, on the other hand, knows his way inside his characters, into their sexualities, fears, resentments and hopes. He transmits their complexities and their deadly simplicities. Their mouths, like his, constantly spill jokes, wittingly and unwittingly. This very finely put-together novel sparkles and glitters but never shows off. It's a comedy possessing the quality Calvino calls lightness, but it's deeper than it first appears... Hanif's novel is relentlessly readable, compulsively so as it surges towards its apocalyptic conclusion. The chapters, all written with the immediacy of the present tense, dance around in time without for a moment losing their coherence. And sometimes the prose attains the heights of poetry... Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is profoundly humane, and humanist" - Robin Yassin-Kassab, Guardian
"Our Lady of Alice Bhatti...confirms [Hanif] as one of the subcontinent's most compelling talents... Alice Bhatti's Karachi is so alive with sensations that you can smell the sewers, hear the screeching of tyres, and feel the humidity... [Hanif] may hold a mirror to a society marred by corruption, violence and injustice, and his humour can be savage, but Hanif finds the humanity in the most flawed of his protagonists and, in some unfathomable way, ends up affirming it. Unbelievable things happen, but in the finest tradition of magic realism - in a world that's shockingly imperfect - Hanif has you wishing they were true." - Scotsman
"The 200 pages spent in Alice Bhatti's presence are distressing, illuminating and often funny... In this bold, uncompromising novel, Hanif draws a compassionate and despairing portrait of a nation in bedlam" - Alice Albinia, Financial Times
"Rambunctious, vulgar, funny and moving, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti wields enormous emotional punch, drawing on a far broader affective palette than Hanif's previous book, and succeeding in making every character credible, even the walk-on parts... The book does not delve into the cultural reasons behind the atrocious state of women's affairs in Pakistan, but it stills the running frame of the dominant culture, showing rather than telling or explaining - and being all the more powerful for that... Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a stealthy book. Not until the end does the reader realize that the deft skewering of a social ill may have been Hanif's intention all along. This is largely because there are no characters who play to stereotype. The book is instead peopled with three-dimensional individuals, who live with their flaws and what life throws at them, improvising responses to extraordinary situations. Right now the world could do with more books that portray Pakistanis that way." - Time
"I am so gripped by what the book is trying to tell me that I cannot put it down. I am on a flight from Spain and I don't notice when the plane lands at Gatwick. When they try to empty the plane I am glued to my seat, reading, lost, but in a good way... This is a wonderful book about faith." - Melissa Kite, Spectator
"Laced with prejudice and rumour which colour attitudes and complicates issues, this is an intriguing read." - Kaye Brien, Launceston Examiner
"His vivid prose has tremendous immediacy" - Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
"Hanif sometimes brings to mind Evelyn Waugh at his sharpest (Vile Bodies, Scoop) but his insistent, brilliant, profoundly funny story-telling gives him the means to express outrage, while avoiding any consequences from the Gentlemen's Squad." - Gay Bilson, Byron Shire Echo, Byron Bay
Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan, in 1965. He graduated from Pakistan Air Force Academy as Pilot Officer, but subsequently left to pursue a career in journalism. He has written plays for the stage and BBC radio, and his film, The Long Night, has been shown at film festivals around the world. His first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Novel in 2008.