Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal
Reviewed by GGGinny
What I drank: Rose all day! and by that I mean Rose starting at dinner and a little more after dark.
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.
Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.
Drunk Overview: A modern day retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in modern day Pakistan.
Drunk Thoughts: This is a book that I wanted to like SOOOOOOO badly, expect that I think it tried too hard to do some things.
- I’m pretty sure this book referenced Pride and Prejudice more than my 10th grade English class where we actually read pride and prejudice.
- This was an issue for me because every time someone talked about it or one of it’s characters or plot points I was immediately ejected from the story so hard that it was then an effort to get back into it.
- And this is also a very true retelling of Pride and Prejudice to the point that all of the names are the same (i.e. Darsee for Darcy and Jena for Jane, Wickaam for Wickam) and the characters loved the book so much I wondered how no one realized that they were basically following the plot.
- And honestly, some of this criticism comes from how much I loved Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors which took some additional artistic liberty and retold Pride and Prejudice in, to me, a more interesting way.
- THAT BEING SAID, this book is at it’s best when it focuses on Pakistan; whether the customs, the patriarchal mindset (and how some people overcome/work around it), the history, talking about the literature, or discussing the parallels between Europe and Pakistan.
- This book also did a great job of translating the older language to make things and characters easier to understand.
- This book is one of the first times I realized how much Mr. Bennet decided to just not deal with.
- And how abrasive certain members of the family were.
- I also thought there were some interesting changes to ages and characters that I’d love to discuss (making Jena and Alys aka Jane and Lizzie, older than their love interests adds some interesting dynamics to their conversations and the subsequent romance aspects).
- I think the world building in Dilipibad was fantastic, it was made so clear that this was a small town, and how that affected the gossip mill.
- I think a little more world building could have been done in other parts of Pakistan? But I’m also relatively unfamiliar with the country so…
- The setting was the perfect place for a modern retelling, though. I know I was complaint heavy on the top part of this review, but I think this book does a nice job of making parallels between the modern (rural) expectations of marriage where religion and tradition are concerned between England in the 1800’s and Pakistan in the 2000’s
- That right, I forgot to mention that this book takes place in the early 2000’s.
- A detail I loved! I think it was so much fun to technically make this a period piece where cell phones were luxuries and gossip magazines/tabloids where running rampant and not on the internet.
- It allowed for this fun writing quirk where things that happened outside of Alys’ view could be conveyed through a gossip column.
- Which I really enjoyed.
- But unfortunately, brings me back to one of my earlier points. there is a literal conversation where two characters talks about representation in books and a character in this book talks about their dopple-ganger in Pride and Prejudice and AGAIN, if you’re going to rewrite a book for the modern age, talking constantly about the book instead of mirroring it’s themes is basically hitting someone over the head with it.
- To the point where it felt condescending “did you notice that this character is based off of this character but I’ve changed them to show [x]?”
- THIS BOOK WAS NOT SUBTLE
- And I am not a subtle person, I don’t mind things being in black and white, but it still feels weird to have a character say “I guess I let my prejudice get the better of me…”
- I think the way this book felt the need to so closely mirror the original book was it’s biggest downfall.
- There was no room for anything to feel new.
- Even with the new setting you knew the Wickam character was going to run off with a sister… and I said before the best parts of this book were the things that were added.
- I forgot I hadn’t talked about this, but I loved the way this book handled the Bennet family’s fall from grace. Adding in additional family members made the ending feel so much stronger and gave the family room to grow.
- Allowing Jena and Alys to have jobs introduced new characters and contraditions to the story.
- Frankly I love how this book handled Sherry’s (Charlotte’s) plotline and how Alys’ mom reacted.
- I want to see what else Kamal can do when she doesn’t constrain herself so hard to fit a narrative.
What it Pairs With: American Fanta. Have you ever been to another country and tried the fanta and it seems to have an extra pop either because of the real sugar or the fizziness, where going back to the American stuff just feels like a bit of a let down even if it’s fine… that.
Rating: Was this book perfect… NO. That being said, I really want to see the author write their own story (and not a retelling). I think their voice is interesting and I’d love to see even a loose retelling. But being chained to the plot of Pride and Prejudice held this book back. 3/5