Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: "Unmarriageable" by Soniah Kamal

There's that classic line from the song "Beauty and the Beast" which goes, "Tale as old as time..." It signifies a story that's been heard so many times throughout the ages, although it may take on slightly (or drastically) different forms each time you hear it.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of those tales as old as time. Not only have there been countless adaptations of this classic on television and in movies, both in the U.S. and abroad, but it has also been used as the basis of everything from Bridget Jones's Diary to Bollywood (Bride and Prejudice) to science fiction (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and everything in between.

Soniah Kamal's Unmarriageable is another take on Austen's novel, this time set in modern-day Pakistan. The once-wealthy Binat family has seen its fortunes dwindle as the result of rumors and vicious jealousy. Even worse than losing the creature comforts they had come to enjoy is the damage their financial fall from grace will do to the marriage prospects for the Binats' five daughters.

While this is dismaying for many of the Binat women, 30-year-old Alysba Binat could care less. She'd be fine with never marrying, if only her mother would stop hassling her. Working as an English literature teacher at a British school in her town, Alys tries to teach her students to think independently, to want more than marriage and a family, which is what they are all raised to desire. This often gets Alys into trouble with the school's principal, who wants her to focus on the actual lessons and not trying to change the girls' aspirations.

"Yet it always upset her that young brilliant minds, instead of exploring the universe, were busy chiseling themselves to fit into the molds of Mrs. and Mom. It wasn't that she was averse to Mrs. Mom, only that none of the girls seemed to have ever considered traveling the world by themselves, let alone been encouraged to do so, or to shatter a glass ceiling, or laugh like a mad-woman in public without a care for how it looked."

When the Binats are invited to their town's biggest wedding, attended by the who's who of Pakistan and elsewhere, Mrs. Binat hopes that Alys and her older sister, Jena, will catch the eye of eligible men, and hopefully reel them in. On the first night of the festivities, Jena meets Fahad Bingla, a successful entrepreneur, and he takes a shine to her. Bingla's best friend, Valentine Darsee, also meets the Binat family and is less than impressed with them, especially Alys. Darsee tells Bingla that she is neither smart nor good-looking enough for him, which Alys overhears.

If you've read or seen any version of Pride and Prejudice before, you know what comes next, as Alys and Darsee find themselves in a battle of wills, as the Binat family tries to make sure their daughters find suitable husbands. Mrs. Binat in particular isn't interested in what Alys herself wants; she needs to think of her family for once. But will she marry for money? For love? Or will she be the rare lucky one who can find both?

Unmarriageable is a sweet, fun romp, and Kamal retains enough of the core of Austen's book while adding twists of her own. I found that it worked better for me when I stopped trying to figure out how the characters' names corresponded to the original ones (and, for that matter, stopped comparing everything to the original). She did a great job creating vivid imagery that helped me picture the different settings, the fashions, and the way the love stories unfolded.

I thought the pacing of the book was a little slow, but beyond that, it was a fun, interesting read. I liked Kamal's concept, but I honestly hope it's not a growing trend. I'm one of those curmudgeons who like the classics to stay classic, and don't see the need to update them for the modern world.

No comments:

Post a Comment