Title: Love Marriage

Author: Monica Ali

Publisher: Virago Press (UK)/Hachette, January 2022; RRP: $32.99

Monica Ali has written five novels including Love Marriage. Her 2003 debut novel Brick Lane was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Monica’s books are translated into 26 languages, and she is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in the UK. Living in London, Monica has both British and Bangladeshi heritage.

This story is about two cultures and two families who endeavour to join together when the lead protagonist, Yasmin Ghorami, a trainee doctor, plans to marry Joe Sangster, a paediatrician. Yasmin’s family migrated from Bengal to the UK. Her father, now a doctor, came from extremely poor circumstances. He has succeeded in his role in medicine against all odds but is dogmatic in his expectations of his family. Her mother is a discontented homemaker and the younger brother rebellious. The family is Muslim.

In contrast, Joe’s mother is a high-flying social celebrity due to a controversial writing and public speaking career. She is larger than life and they live in extravagant circumstances. Joe’s father left when he was tiny and has played no significant role in his life. His mother has been a dominating but liberal influence in Joe’s life and the two are happily enmeshed. The two families couldn’t be further apart in lifestyle or culture.

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As the story progresses and the marriage arrangements between the two families play out, long-held assumptions challenge current beliefs. Family secrets seep to the fore and unravel, causing disruption to the lives of all.

The writing is honest and shows the reality that often lurks behind our behaviours and the lengths we go to in order to keep the top layers of our functionality afloat. This can go on forever, it seems, unless circumstances force hidden and unfinished business to shatter our equilibrium. In Love Marriage, this happens as the parents of Yasmin, the mother of Joe and Yasmin’s younger brother – all make decisions that change their lives and those around them. Yasmin and Joe’s future is in upheaval as they confront their own secrets, which bring their marriage plans into question. The ending of this novel is satisfying and unexpected.   

Monica Ali has written a clever and generous story, highlighting the issues of class, race, and identity. The book has an authentic London atmosphere to it, as this is where the story is based, but these circumstances could relate to other settings in current times. I enjoyed this novel, cringing at times, laughing often and yet impressed by the sincerity nestled just below the surface. Monica Ali is indeed an author who digs deep and writes with confidence and proven competency.    

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group, January 2022

Review copy supplied by the publisher