In Review

Love Marriage by Monica Ali: a book that ‘dares to be deliberately funny’

Ali’s first novel in 11 years is an ‘atmospheric tale of an Indian family in contemporary Britain’

Monica Ali’s new novel – her first in 11 years – is a “sprawling, atmospheric tale of an Indian family in contemporary Britain”, said Melissa Katsoulis in The Times.

Anisah and Shaokat Ghorami, originally from Calcutta, live an outwardly contented life on a “quiet suburban street” in south London. Their daughter, Yasmin, is a junior doctor (and very much the apple of her GP father’s eye), while her younger brother Arif, to his parents’ exasperation, “dreams of working in the media”.

The plot is driven by Yasmin’s engagement to Joe, a fellow doctor who lives in Primrose Hill and has a strangely intimate relationship with his mother Harriet, a “controversial, sex-obsessed, famous feminist of a certain age”. Something of a “monster”, Harriet worms her way into the Ghoramis’ lives, with destabilising consequences for the whole family.

Fans of Ali’s debut, Brick Lane, will love this work, which revisits many of that book’s themes, while placing them in a “richer, newer London”.

Unusually for an ostensibly “serious” literary novel, this is a book that “dares to be deliberately funny”, said Jenny Colgan in The Spectator. Ali skewers many aspects of contemporary life – from the “sensitivity programme” Yasmin attends at hospital (her crime having been to react angrily to a patient’s racism) to the “nagging urge” all Londoners feel to live somewhere “really, really” nice.

Also surprising is the sheer amount of “bonking” involved. The novel begins with Yasmin and her brother “discussing the pubic hair of her future mother-in-law, and pretty much rollocks off from there”. Yet there is much else to admire in this “baggy, generous novel” – from the “beautifully rounded out” characters to the enjoyable send-up of literary parties.

I wasn’t convinced, said Claire Allfree in The Daily Telegraph. While Ali’s social observations are mostly “sound” – she is particularly good at exposing the hypocrisy of performative liberal guilt – her execution can be “clunky and essayistic”. And her characters sometimes behave in “over-the-top ways” that seem dictated less by who they are than by the “narrative demands of comic soap opera”.

This is what some would call, disparagingly, a “middlebrow” book, said Allan Massie in The Scotsman: it doesn’t set out to be clever or bizarre, and it deals with characters who “try to live decent and admirable lives”. But that is precisely why it succeeds. Ali is a natural and engaging storyteller – and she showcases those abilities very well indeed in this “intelligent and agreeably old-fashioned novel”.

Virago 512pp £18.99; The Week Bookshop £14.99

Love Marriage book
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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