Review: ‘Brick Lane’ creator Monica Ali’s new ‘Love Marriage’

On the Shelf

Love Marriage

By Monica Ali
Scribner: 432 pages, $28

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One of many issues that distinguished Monica Ali’s 2003 debut novel, “Brick Lane,” was its insistence on London as totally dwelling to its Bangladeshi-born characters. Even the newer immigrants, like Nazneen, are decidedly settled in, not apologizing for current, even when their existence is named into query. That’s partly what made “Brick Lane” a bestseller after which a movie — and Ali a Booker Prize finalist and a Granta “best young novelist.”

After a number of extra books that ranged far afield (together with “Alentejo Blue,” brief tales set in Portugal; “In the Kitchen,” a hotel-staff homicide thriller; and the Princess Diana alternate historical past “Untold Story”), Ali took a 10-year break from publishing. This 12 months, she got here again with “Love Marriage,” a up to date comedian novel about an engaged interracial couple on a rocky highway to their nuptials.

It’s an overstuffed couch of a guide, with too many subplots and too many phrases. (Ali instructed British Vogue an early draft contained 2.4 million of them; a lot reward to her editors for chopping it all the way down to a mere 500 pages.) However then, who amongst us can resist an overstuffed couch?

Yasmin Ghorami and Joe Sangster, each docs, are in love. Joe’s mom, Harriet, invitations them together with Yasmin’s mother and father, Anisah and Shaokat, to her dwelling for dinner. Harriet, a feminist author and artist well-known for showing in an incredibly open-legged {photograph}, contrasts in some ways with the Ghoramis, who insist on toting service luggage full of Bangladeshi meals to the upscale night.

Shock, shock: It’s Yasmin and Joe who wind up feeling ignored, as Harriet and Anisha shortly bond and start plotting each the marriage festivities and additional get-togethers. Instantly it’s the bride-to-be who has to regulate her expectations: “Yasmin smiled. ‘So Harriet’s turning you into a feminist, is she?’ ‘Oh, no,’ said Ma, beaming. ‘Already I am feminist.’”

As in her debut, Ali has enjoyable shattering culture-clash clichés (this time within the rom-com subcategory). Early on, we study that Anisah and Shaokat had a “love marriage,” uncommon for his or her time and place. One assumes their assist of their daughter’s upcoming nuptials stems from their very own modest rebel.

One ought to assume nothing, not with Ali. In “Brick Lane” she tore aside the notion of Muslim wives as timid and chaste. In “Love Marriage” she’s out to destroy the thought of any form of girl as such. (No marvel her first draft was so lengthy.) Ali manages this via orchestrated chaos (affairs, intercourse habit, a child on the best way for Yasmin’s feckless brother) but in addition by fastidiously dismantling expectations. Except for Harriet and Anisah’s odd-couple camaraderie, there are intimations that Joe is just not as good as he appears. Finally even the guide’s title comes into query. Does “love marriage” exist?

Ali’s makes an attempt to reply that query are excruciatingly humorous, at occasions virtually brutally so. The schoolgirl Yasmin, nonetheless in awe of her mother and father’ real love, writes a brief story for sophistication about it. When she provides it to her father to learn, we get a glimpse of his personal fears:

“You have written things that you do not know. That you cannot know.”
“It’s creative writing, Baba. Mr. Curtis really liked it. You can read what he’s written at the end.”
“You do not know what I said to your mother in the library in Calcutta. You were not there. You were not born. You do not know what she said to me. And yet you have written as if you were at the next table. Tell me — how are you different from a liar? How is this creative writing different from lies?”

Observations like that raise what may in a lesser author’s palms be a humdrum home story to a different degree. Ali, together with her seemingly old school construction and concentrate on characters, has a really fashionable and human tackle easy methods to stay and why. Shaokat’s secrets and techniques are lies of one other magnitude from his younger daughter’s fiction; one other character should study to cease dwelling a lie; nonetheless one other must acknowledge trauma earlier than having the ability to inform the reality. These reckonings depart an actual mess of their wake. However the mess should be made earlier than anybody can really stay higher, extra truthfully.

Like her literary forebear and affect Jane Austen, Ali has an excellent deal to say about ethical life. Which, by the best way, is just not the identical factor as “morality.” Although they’re categorized as novelists of manners, neither Austen nor Ali traffics in something mannerly; somewhat, they use the mores of an period to point out how tousled we get in flimsy constructions that it turns into unattainable to differentiate from lies. Which suggests, in fact, that the denouement of “Love Marriage” entails numerous detangling.

How do you detangle a settee? That’s not simply an overstuffed metaphor; it’s a dilemma. Ali’s closing chapter, “Possibility,” makes elegant work of that widespread downside of the maximal novel — the truncated ending. As a substitute of merely updating us character by character, the creator has Yasmin transfer via a morning of constructing espresso and contemplating what comes subsequent. Even when it’s a bit transparently cinematic, it’s additionally much less clumsy than the same old “Epilogue.”

Must you resolve to learn “Love Marriage” — and it is best to! — get fortunately misplaced in its pages however take note of Ali’s goal in case you can. She proves {that a} Dickensian-length guide nonetheless works with fashionable characters at its middle. As Dickens wrote about his London, so Ali writes about hers — about those that make their houses inside its confines but in addition amongst its wild prospects. Regardless of our uniquely fashionable troubles, we nonetheless have the identical human failings — greater than sufficient to overstuff a novel.

Patrick is a contract critic who tweets @TheBookMaven.