Love Marriage is the fourth novel from Booker Prize shortlisted author, Monica Ali; and her first novel in a decade. It is the story of Yasmin, an English doctor whose family are of Indian Muslim heritage, and her engagement to obstetrician Joe.
Race, class, religion and gender all play major parts in the unfolding of this clever and frequently funny novel. But, it is sex, desire, and the repression of carnal urges that take the central role right from the first page. The novel opens with the line, ‘In the Ghorami household sex was never mentioned,’ but by the end of the novel, Yasmin and her family will know far more about each others’ sex lives than they ever wanted to.
Love Marriage consists of a number of short chapters, and though the book is about four hundred pages long, it makes for a quick read. It is peopled with vibrant and unique characters, such as Yasmin’s future mother in law, Harriet Sangster, a prominent sex positive author and intellectual.
Harriet is a powerful force in the novel, and it is the meeting between her and Yasmin’s conservative parents which provides the story’s inciting incident. Harriet’s lack of self-awareness is most obvious in her relationship to Anisah; beginning with her excitement at Yasmin’s mother’s ‘authenticity’ and her insistence on throwing the young couple a traditional Muslim wedding in her back yard, despite Yasmin only wanting a small ceremony. Yet despite her shortcomings, it is also Harriet who sees Anisah clearest, outside of her roles of wife and mother, and teaches Yasmin to do the same. It is these three women and their experiences who form the nucleus of the book.
The novel largely sticks to a third person limited style linked to Yasmin, Harriet, and (somewhat bizarrely) Joe’s therapist, Sandor. Unbeknownst to Yasmin, her seemingly perfect fiance is being treated for a sex addiction caused by his unconventional relationship with his mother growing up, which the therapist describes as ‘incestuous’.
While there was nothing technically wrong with the inclusion of these other points of view, I hesitate to say that they were strictly necessary, as most of the information conveyed in them is revealed to Yasmin in other ways at some point in the book anyway. Joe’s infidelity, for instance, may have been more shocking had we found out about it at the same time as Yasmin; Harriet’s point of view was largely just to explore her character. These sections, while entertaining and well-written truly only served to make the book longer.
There is a lot to love about the novel, however. From Yasmin’s hate-to-love chemistry with the arrogant doctor on her ward to her amazing friend Rania, battling the constraints of being Muslim in Britain in 2019 (as yes, this book is set pre-pandemic), to her immature younger brother stepping up into fatherhood, to the Russian emigre, Zlata, living out her last days in the hospital and mourning her lost first love. It’s hard to summarise the book, which must be experienced as a whole to be appreciated.
Love Marriage is a book that will make you think about big picture issues, and about the relationship between parents and grown up children in new ways. It is frequently laugh out loud funny and peopled with a bevy of loveable side characters. Though it is a big book, it’s a quick read and worth the outlay of time. Read it if you like Zadie Smith, Bernardine Evaristo or Marian Keyes. It’s also a perfect book club pick.