Trigger warning for brief discussion of rape.
When Love Marriage, by Monica Ali, opens, we meet Yasmin Ghorami at her most anxious. She and her fiance, Joe, are about to introduce their parents to each other. Yasmin is very embarrassed by her traditional Bengali parents and extremely apprehensive about the judgment of her British future mother-in-law, a sex-positive intellectual. Ali is so descriptive in this opening chapter that I was cringing on Yasmin’s behalf. Strangely enough, the dinner goes relatively well. It goes well enough that it lures Yasmin into a false sense of security. Little does she know but that dinner is one of the last times that her life will be on course for many months.
Over the course of Love Marriage, almost everything will go wrong in Yasmin and Joe’s lives, and in their parents’ lives. That dinner—with all of the characters straining to make a good impression—gives us a strong hint about what’s going to go wrong in all those lives. You see, part of the reason why all the characters are sitting with their hair clenched (to borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, A Fish Called Wanda) is because all of them have secrets they desperately want to keep hidden from each other. We learn those secrets over the course of the novel as the characters make mistakes, get angry with each other, and are forced to renegotiate their relationships with each other. Sadly, Yasmin et al.’s stories prove that the course of true love really doesn’t want to run smooth.
I realize that my summary might make this book sound like a soap opera (and I haven’t even mentioned the sex addiction or the illegitimate child or the racial harassment). All of that drama serves a valuable purpose. Once the secrets start to come out, all of the characters can finally ask themselves important questions about what matters to them, who do they really love, and what are they willing to compromise over. The other benefit of all those secrets coming out is that the characters can face the things that have been haunting them, sometimes for years, and heal.
Love Marriage is one of the most cathartic books I’ve ever read. When I finished the last paragraph and closed the book, it felt like I had run a marathon. I felt emotionally wrung out. Again, this might sound bad, but it was a deeply satisfying kind of wrung out. Ali’s character development is absolutely stellar. The secrets the characters hold are original but still plausible and relatable. This is one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve read in a very long time.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.