A closer reading of Corner Shop with Roopa Farooki

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Firstly I have to ask, what made you throw the lovely Zaki into a river, and run away for good? For much of the novel I thought Zaki would be the one to bring everyone together – were you tempted to go down that road? Or did you always know the fate of his character?

I always knew what Zaki would do – he was a free spirit who had been trapped for too long in the superficial middle class respectability of his corner shop; firstly in order to care for his son, and then to repay the debt to his father. In reaching out for Delphine, he had thought that he might start to lead the life he really wanted, and recapture his lost dreams, but instead he found himself trapped in an even more impossible situation, as he risked breaking his son’s heart. It was important for the character that he make that cleansing leap (both literal and figurative) into the river, and finally escape. His most selfish act – the abandonment of his family, to follow his own dream – was also his most selfless, as he sincerely believed that his family was better off without him; he may even have been right.

With Bitter Sweets, you really brought together the loose ends, and tied a nice pretty bow over it – were you less inclined to do this in Corner Shop – because you’d already done that before?
With Bitter Sweets, the challenge was in untangling all the complicated and damaged family relationships towards a happy conclusion, and one question that I got asked again and again, is what would happen next. In a way, Corner Shop answers this question – the challenge was to explore what happens after happy-ever-after. At different points in the novel all the characters achieve everything they thought they wanted; the difference here is that life goes on, and they have to contend with the tragi-comic consequences of fulfilling their dreams. Delphine, for example, having had a soaring career, and then an apparently perfect marriage to a model husband with an adored son, finds that she has nothing left to wish for, and nowhere else to go – and so she goes backwards, and yearns for the freedom of her youth, which is exemplified for her by an earlier relationship with a younger, irresponsible Zaki.

I have to commend you on Lucky’s character, brilliantly capturing the teenage angst, the dreamer – what inspired you to focus part of the novel on a fourteen year old boy?

Lucky was the character that lived most clearly for me long before I started working on Corner Shop; I wrote the first page about his dream while I was still writing Bitter Sweets.I looked back at my own fourteen year old diaries for inspiration, as I wanted to capture that complicated moment of adolescence when one is hardly a child but not quite an adult, the time when we could accept outrageous setbacks and outrageous good fortune with the rubber ball resilience of youth, and when we were still hopeful and optimistic enough for our dreams to mean something.

The only thing which disappointed me (ever the optimist!) is that there were really no happy endings – would you agree and if so why not?

I think that there are happy endings, but they just don’t all happen at the end of the book! (Or rather, the book does close on a happy ending for one of the characters, but we already know that isn’t where his journey finishes.) I’m conscious that I can’t talk too much about the endings – happy or otherwise – as I don’t want to give them away!

The novel always come back to one thing -and that is about getting your heart’s desire or not, and which is worse – what have you always wished to achieve as a writer?

The reason this book came about, was possibly because I felt that I was in the same position as some of my characters – I had just achieved my biggest dreams – having a baby after years of infertility, receiving a publishing contract for my first novel, and moving into our picturesque (albeit delapidated) farmhouse in France. As a writer, all I ever wanted to achieve was to be published; the funny thing is that now it’s happened, I want more – I don’t just want to be published, I want people to read my novels, and enjoy them, and be moved by them. Sending a book out into the world is nerve-wracking, as you have no idea whether you’ll get decent reviews or sales. But at the same time I’m always conscious that I’m deeply privileged to make my living doing the thing that I love.

Delphine was a spoilt woman, with so much to live for, a fabulous lawyer for a husband, I’m not sure I liked her – do you think your female readers will love her or loathe her?

When I first developed Delphine as a character, I wasn’t sure how much I liked her either, as it is very easy to lose patience with a woman who seems so dissatisfied when she appears to have so much; but during the writing process, I found myself more and more drawn to her, as she recognises her own flaws, and in some ways is more critical of herself than anyone else. I hope that I have written her sympathetically enough for my readers to empathise a little with her, as sometimes “having it all” isn’t what makes someone happy. And I feel that even though she behaves selfishly and thoughtlessly during the novel, she does redeem herself before the end.

You hinted that Jinan was all too aware of Delphine and Zaki’s relationship – but he didn’t do anything about it – I think that was keeping in with his character – but part of me wished he grew a bit of a backbone – do you think it’s the lovely people in life that get taken advantage of?
I think it’s probably true that good things don’t always happen to good people; but I feel in Jinan’s case, it worked in his favour, as if he hadn’t been the doting husband and good son that he was, Delphine would have found it much easier to leave him, and Zaki would have found it much easier to betray him. Instead, Jinan was clever enough to show Zaki just how much his marriage meant to him, in his own non-confrontational way, so that Zaki couldn’t refuse his son’s tacit request. Zaki realised that no one would love Delphine as much as Jinan did, and that he loved his son more than he had been willing to admit – in the end, Jinan was the one who got his way
This is your second novel – was writing for a second novel different to the first – and if so, how?

It wasn’t very different – in both novels I first worked on my characters (admittedly Bitter Sweets had a much larger cast), and then grew the plot from that. That said, Corner Shop has a much less linear plot as I wanted to reveal different layers of the characters and deepen our understanding of them by moving between the past and present; for example, we first meet Zaki as a free-spirited fifty-something trapped in his shambolic corner shop, but later re-visit his romantic youth in Paris, and his earlier relationship with Delphine, so we experience his journey and his disillusionment at first hand.

What are you working on next? Could you tell us a bit more about it?
I’m working on my third novel, and am in fact just putting the finishing touches to it. We’ve had a lot of debate about the title, but I’m fairly sure that I’m going to call it THE WAY THINGS LOOK TO ME. It’s a contemporary family drama, set in North London, about a brother and two sisters in their early twenties/late teens; it is about how sibling relationships are compromised by the necessarily unequal treament that happens within a family which has to deal with autism. It will be coming out next Autumn in the UK, and a few months after that in the US, and I’m hugely excited about it.

Roopa Farooki was born in Lahore in Pakistan, and brought up in London. She graduated from New College, Oxford in 1995 and worked in advertising before turning to write fiction. Roopa lives in London with her husband and sons.