I do enjoy Monica Ali’s books. Brick Lane was superbly written and I read it at a very poignant time in my life when I was leaving Bangladesh after many years of living there, so it is close to my heart. Ali had been criticised by many for effectively being a British girl who knew nothing about real life in Bangladesh. Ironically, I’d heard this from the Bangladesh diaspora – British Bangladeshis – who considered themselves more knowledgeable about Bangladesh life despite coming from exactly the same mixed heritage background. I don’t think it is fair, but I can see why the issues were raised.
Still, after a very long time of waiting, Ali seems to have answered that criticism with Love Marriage. Set in the UK and largely based around Yasmin Ghorami, who is a Muslim British Indian marrying a white man, the story deals with their preparations for marriage and the interactions with her family and the mother of Joe, her fiancé, who is a very different kind of person.
There is much that is praiseworthy about the style and plot. Ali is a natural storyteller and her characters exude…well, character. Everything is fast paced and there’s no drag, even for a moment as we find out about the weaknesses, the strengths and the past histories of all the main characters. Ali manages to make her characters entirely believable. I’ve met these people, known them and even loved them over the years. As a semi-side note, she has also clearly really done her research into medical facts – something which proves vital to the story in the end. It is a clear a lot of work went to to crafting these people.
There are faults, however. Ali indulges in too much character introspection and moralising for the benefit of the reader. She tries to hard to make a lesson to learn from all of this, albeit disguised as Yasmin’s journey of discovery. There is also far too much trust in the work of Joe’s therapist, who plays such a monumental role in the story. I did not find this kind of psychotherapy convincing. A behaviourist view would have been so much more appropriate (or at least CBT) and wreaked less havoc on the characters who, in the end, find their own way. I would have preferred it had he been shown that his ‘helping’ was very much the opposite. Instead, he comes out (quietly) as the hero.
None of this detracts significantly from the book however. Ali, as I’ve said, is a natural storyteller and the pages gush with love and interest. Without a doubt, when the last page was turned, I wanted to know what happens to all of the characters next. This is always my litmus test and Love Marriage passes it with flying colours. These characters have their flaws, and the story explores all of them, but they don’t become ‘ugly’ (something I always hate about many modern characters); instead, they remain human, lovable and worth sympathising with.
Unlike Brick Lane, I don’t think Love Marriage is a classic. It lacks that certain filmic quality and expression of monumental truths. Nevertheless, this is definitely a book that should be read and loved. It’s a novel for our time and our culture which needs reading before both things move on, as they inevitably will.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. His third book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, was published by Histria Books in 2022.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways and Lancashire Life magazine. Currently reviews for Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 5.5 million times.