What does it mean and why does it matter?
Understanding some of a novel’s background helps us to see the bigger picture. It helps us to answer questions such as: 'Where is the novel set?' 'When did this happen?' 'Why do they speak / act / think like that?'
Novels are set in a time and a place - these may not be familiar to us, and the characters may speak or behave differently. We call this the novel's context.
Meera Syal calls her book an ‘autobiographical novel’. We need to unpick this term as it is a bit confusing! An autobiography is the truthful story of one’s own life. A novel is a fictional story.
Putting the two terms together suggests that Meera is basing the story on events and people from her childhood, but that she will change any details to make her story interesting.
Is ‘Meena’ really ‘Meera’ then? Perhaps! Probably, in some ways. The fun thing is that Meena is a character who likes to make up stories, or even outright lies if it suits her! Perhaps that is what Meera, the author is doing too!
If you are able to watch the film version of the book, it will help you to understand the context of the way people lived, dressed, their homes, and even their speech in the time and place the novel is set. It is vital to remember that there are some important differences in what happens between the novel and the film, and that you should only write about the book in any exam.
In this activity, we will explore some of the background information about where and when the story is set, and how this influences what happens.
You should always refer to your own copy of the book when working through the activities. The quotations are for reference only.