Monica Ali’s fifth novel, Love Marriage, is a riveting portrait of a seemingly perfect engagement’s unraveling.
Yasmin Ghorami is a 26-year-old doctor following in her ambitious immigrant father’s footsteps. She’s newly engaged to Joe Sangster, a fellow doctor who’s the son of an infamously outspoken feminist with chronic boundary issues. As Yasmin anxiously anticipates the first meeting between their families, she frets that her mother’s clothes aren’t right for dinner with the sophisticated Sangsters, and that her brother, Arif—surly, unemployed and living at home a couple years past graduation—is a loose cannon.
There are many differences in race, class, religion and culture to navigate between the middle-class, Indian-born Muslim (though not necessarily practicing) Ghoramis and the white, upper-middle-class Sangsters, and Ali delineates those distinctions with nuance and specificity. But to its credit, Love Marriage isn’t really about the obvious challenges of Yasmin’s and Joe’s worlds clashing; rather, even though all looks good on the surface, the engagement (and the changes it will inevitably bring) reveals deep cracks in both family units.
On some level, Yasmin understands these divisions, but at the same time, she harbors significant misapprehensions. She’s naive when it comes to understanding the British upper-middle class, and she’s soon disabused of the notion that the Sangsters will be less interfering than her Indian family. When it comes to her son, Harriet Sangster has no boundaries, and it’s ironic that one of the Yasmin’s pressure points is uber-feminist Harriet’s insistence on a big wedding. Rather than feeling put off by the idea of including Muslim traditions, Harriet is eager to flex her liberal credentials by pushing them on a reluctant Yasmin.
Soon all the key players are questioning their paths. Joe’s past struggles with sex and impulse control resurface, and his journey and his relationship with his therapist are particularly well rendered. Unsure about her chosen profession and partner, Yasmin, who has always been cautious and well-behaved, experiments with rebellion. Arif clashes with his disapproving father. And Yasmin’s parents’ “love marriage” is tested when her often-overlooked and normally rock-solid mother, Anisah, moves out of the family home.
The novel’s structure makes the most of these reckonings. Though Yasmin is the novel’s anchor, the multiple points of view allow a panoramic view of the unfolding events. Ali includes perhaps a few too many perspectives; some, like Harriet’s, only anchor one or two short chapters. But overall, Ali’s character treatments are multifaceted, humane and fluid in this multicultural family drama in which, like a multi-car pileup, individuals careen into and away from one another.