January 14, 2019

Book Review: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

Source: Vine

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice in modern-day Pakistan. P&P retellings are a dime a dozen and the storyline is so well-known that there are no narrative surprises – one already knows the outcome. So the journey towards that outcome must indeed be extraordinary to be enjoyed.  

First - the setting in circa-2000, marriage-obsessed Pakistan, which mirrors Regency Era England of the original.  I loved all the colorful and lively details of the culture, including the mouthwatering descriptions of food, customs and lavish wedding celebrations (only one wedding but like Indian weddings, the festivities can last an entire week!)  I was also tickled by this version's Mrs. Bennett, Pinkie Binat, whose single-minded, old-fashioned views and laughable mispronunciations kept me laughing.

Second, I was delighted by the passages detailing Alys's deep knowledge and love of literature.  As an English lit teacher in an all-girls school, the book opens with Alys tasking her students with rewriting the famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice, with very revealing results.  All very meta, but Kamal also occasionally comments on the original, such as when she allows her version of Charlotte Lucas, Sherry, to explain convincingly why she chose her Mr. Collins, and then provides her with not only a comfortable arrangement, but a very happy marriage.  

Alys and Darsee work in this version of P&P because they both have a love of literature in common and, when not disagreeing about most things, have enviably rich conversations about the books they've read.  

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