Book Review: Love Marriage by Monica Ali

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Monica Ali PHOTO: Sebastian Willnow/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

Love and marriage are two of the novels’ perennial themes, unsurprisingly. If Jane Austen left her heroine and her hero at the church door, she too offered wedding photos that might serve as a warning, and I’ve wondered if her most attractive heroine, Emma, ​​would have long endured to Mr Knightly. Because things change within a marriage; this is one of the themes that Monica Ali explores in this clever and pleasantly old-fashioned novel.

Yasmin is a young doctor. Her long-established London-based Bangladeshi parents are Shaokat, himself a doctor, happily Anglicised, and Anisah, who at first seems comfortably confined to the roles of wife, mother and housewife; she is a great cook. Yasmin’s brother, Arif, is unhappy, flirting with Islam, not knowing what he can do with his life. It is an interesting family and the balance within it will change; this is one of the themes of the novel.

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Yasmin is engaged to a fellow doctor, Joe, apparently an ideal future husband: charming, intelligent, kind. But Joe has problems, revealed in lengthy sessions with his psychiatrist in what are perhaps the novel’s least satisfying chapters. Then there is the matter of her mother, Harriet, a wealthy author and feminist activist, a celebrity given to speaking provocatively on radio and television. How can the quiet Muslim Anisah relate to this flamboyant and essentially comic character? Yasmin understandably views a meet-and-greet dinner at Harriet’s house with some anxiety. Isn’t it all going to be very embarrassing?

Love Marriage by Monica Ali

The novel is deeply rooted in everyday life, with the chapters recounting Yasmin’s work in the geriatric ward of the hospital being especially good. Inevitably, a topic will be seen as a clash of cultures, and indeed it is, but this is done with more understanding, intelligence, humor and sympathy than usual. Ali’s characters almost all want to behave. Harriet, in some respects a richly comic figure, is no exception. She is often foolish, but Ali treats her with respect.

There are secrets in families, and acknowledging this leads to unraveling the past, which changes Yasmin’s understanding of the circumstances of her parents’ marriage, and thus her characters. In fact, the father, Shaokat, proud to have risen from poverty to become a competent and respected GP in London, apparently much better integrated into a different culture than his wife, is perhaps the most interesting and engaging character. of the novel, forced by changing circumstances to recognize that the image he has presented is not entirely honest and, therefore, misleading.

But, in truth, all the characters are convincing, although it is possible to think that the exploration and elucidation of the nature of Joe – more complicated than it seems at first glance – could have been better carried out than through his sessions with the psychiatrist. . These episodes read like a somewhat static and flat exploration, while almost everything we learn from the other characters is presented dramatically. Ali certainly couldn’t find a better way to let Joe reveal himself.

However, she is, for the most part, a natural and highly engaging storyteller who recognizes the importance of presenting scenes and changes of mood and judgment in spectacular fashion. The word “middlebrow” is perhaps outdated, and in any case was too often used to disparage a novel and its author. However, much of the best fiction is fairly described as “middlebrow,” that is, a novel dealing with everyday life as most of us experience it, and this novel is a very good and welcome example of that. that. It doesn’t pretend to be smart or weird; tells a story about people in whose lives there is little that is outrageous or remarkable, though there may be dark passages, even horrors, in the past. His characters are all the people who try to lead a worthy and admirable life, who encounter difficulties and for the most part cope with them. It talks about ordinary people who try to do the right thing for themselves and for others, and they do it very well and in an attractive way.

Love Marriage, by Monica Ali, Virago, 499 pages, £18.99

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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