If marriage is the prize, you’d better be skilled in the art of “grabbing it,” it being an eligible bachelor. In her Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Soniah Kamal transports Jane Austen’s narrative to early-2000s Pakistan, imbuing the often-reimagined story with a fresh lexicon. Unmarriageable proves the timelessness of Austen and how her centuries-old plotline finds a home in many cultures.
The Binat family has fallen far, deceived out of their fortunes by Mr. Binat’s own brother, and have been making due with reduced circumstances for more than a decade. To Mrs. Binat’s chagrin, her two oldest daughters must work, finding employment as teachers at the local school. All five Binat girls—Jena, Alys, Mari, Qitty and Lady—await their (mother’s) longed-for fate of a good marriage.
Though her prose lacks Austen’s sardonic bite and subtlety, Kamal paints endearing relationships between Jena and Alys, and between Alys and her best friend, Sherry Looclus. Due to the lack of well-developed chemistry, love matches between Alys and Valentine Darsee, and Jena and Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, unfortunately fall flat, but the real spark to Kamal’s writing comes whenever Mrs. Binat opens her mouth. The mother’s hysterics over appearances and the father’s frequent retreat to his garden (plants can’t talk, after all) provide much of the comic relief. Kamal skewers Pakistani society over their obsessions and hypocrisies much in the same way Austen did hers. Alys, told at one point by the condescending Beena dey Bagh that it must be hard for her mother to have two 30-year-old daughters unmarried, retorts that it “seems to be even harder on absolute strangers.”
As an admirer of Austen’s work, I appreciate how others want to emulate her. It is a truth universally acknowledged, however, that it is quite the undertaking. Altogether, Unmarriageable is light and entertaining. Meddling mothers, conniving sisters, arrogant men and a marriage-minded society provide plenty of fodder, and in the end, class clashes and societal expectations transcend the ages as well as geography.