Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal
So at the library we added this book in June of last year, but as “new books” only have a 14 day checkout limit, I decided to wait. The reading isn’t the hard part as I can read fast, but I sometimes have trouble with the review part-you know life happens.
So I ended up checked the book out in October. But then I didn’t get around to reading it until April 2020 (returning and checking it out again) as life (and other books) got in the way.
This book takes place in 2000-2001 Pakistan and starts off with the Binat family. Bark Binat (Mr. Bennet) used to be a wealthy man from a wealthy family, but when his father became ill he relied heaily on Binat’s brother Goga and wife Tinkle. Goga was more traditional, while Bark loved American culture. Bark also fell hard for Khushboo “Pinkie” Gardenaar. Tinkle hated the beautiful girl instantly, and that she would forevermore be compared to her sister-in-law (who is far prettier than her.) She continued to spread slander about her and them, even more after Pinkie gave birth to two gorgeous girls, Jena (Jane) and Alys (Elizabeth). The family was later completed with Lady (Lydia), Qitty (Kitty), and Mari (Mary).
Goga decided to diversify the accounts and start some shops up in Saudi Arabia. Bark didn’t really like it, but as a dutiful brother he wet out there. Life was good but dangerous at times. If anything were to happen, they would always side with Saudis, even if they were in the wrong. After being rear-ended by a Saudi Prince and managing to just get a fine and broken arm he returned to Lahore, Pakistan but discovered his father dead, that his brother stole all the money, and lies and rumors abounding that Bark lost it all in bad investments.
Alys encouraged him to get a lawyer, but he said nothing could be done (having been bribed by Goga)-so the once mighty Binat family has fallen, is continuously gossiped about, and having to figure out what to do next.
The two eldest girls-Jena and Ayls started working at the British School of Dilipabad. It has been 10 years since their return and fall from grace.
Ayls is seen as a rebel to the other girls, teachers, and friends. She constantly encourages her students and sisters to go against the status quo of tradition and be who they want to be. Jena is more traditional, Mary is extremely religious, Lady wants to be famous and rich-and Qitty is still trying to find her place often fighting with Lady.
Life probably would have stayed the same except they received an invitation that changes everything-yes the Binats have been cordially invited to the NadirFiede wedding and Pinkie was pleased as punch that her girls would have an opportunity to trap a husband.
With them attending the mehndi, nikah, and walima ceremonies (two in Dilipad and one in Lahore) they should have ample time to hook a man.
At the wedding the family has fun, some people-Lady-having more than others and meet the Binglia clan (Bingley)-“Hammy” Binglia (Caroline), Sumeria “Sammy” Binglia Riyasat (Mrs. Hurst), Sultan “Jaans” Riyaset (Mr. Hurst), and Fahad “Bungles” Binglia (Mr. Bingley). The women hate being in D-Pad, their name for Dilliapad, but Bungles enjoys especially after he meets Jena, only having eyes for her.
They also meet Valntine Darsee (Mr. Darcy)-the guy who happens to own the school that Alyss and Jena work at. He cold, standoffish, grumpy, and jetlagged.
Things get worse as they all sit to eat and Pinkie, Lady Qitty, Mari make fools of themselves and the Binat family. Hammie, Sammie, and Darsee are not pleased. Later that evening Ayls hears Bungles and Darsee talking about Jena. Bungles is crazy about her, and mentions Ayls but Darsee thinks she is just a country bumpkin.
However, the next day/event he hears her talking to a former student about her thesis and starts to view her in a new light.
Bungles invites Jena to a polo match and they all go to Lahore. The driver drops Jena at the match, while Ayls takes a walk in the park, getting sweaty. She goes to the car to return home but it is missing-and it is 2000 so no cellphone! She returns to the polo clubhouse to use a phone and discovers that Jena hurt her ankle when stomping the divots.
They take Jena to the doctors but Hammy and Sammy talk bad about her saying she is faking it to trick Bungles.
Jena is injured by a slight sprain. And Bungles pays for the whole thing, even an overnight stay. He wants to remain there but Ayls kicks him out as they need to protect Jena’s reputation. The rest of the Binat family drop by and thoroughly embarrasses Jena and Ayls. Just…OUCH!
Later as they are waiting for the final party, Ayls goes to the lawyers regarding a land dispute. It is over ten years that it has been going on, and as her father doesn’t trust any lawyers after what happened with Goga-Ayls takes care of all the money matters for him. At the lawyers’ Ayls meets Jeorgeullah Wickaam.
Ayls is charmed by him, although I don’t know why. He is flib and has nothing in common with her. I mean he hates reading-and she loves books.
Wickham takes her to see the land in dispute and then out to see the changing of the guard at Wagah-Attari. There they run into Darsee and Wickaam reveals he and Darsee are cousins but don’t get along.
Wickaam shares that his parents died when he was young, alongside Darcy’s father. He moved in with him and his aunt and it was good except that Darsee was a jerk to him and Darsee’s little sister. After Darsee’s mother remarried they moved to Thailand and Wickaam went to stay with other relatives. After Darsee’s mother died, Wickaam was written out of the will by Darsee and lost everything. Of course with her past-something Wickaam knows ALL ABOUT being their lawyer after all-Ayls believes him and hates Darsee.
Alys of course shares with Jena, but Jena is very against it. Because of their past she knows that relatives can say whatever they want, but it isn’t necessarily the truth. Plus Jena doesn’t think Darsee is that type of person or that Bungles wouldn’t be friends with him.
Christmas comes and the Binat family visit Nasir and Nona Gardenaar. At the party their cousin, Farhet Kaleen, comes visiting, a physiatrist-a healer of the pain management. He moved to Pakistan as his wife died and he is looking for a replacement.
Kaleen wants Jena, but Pinkie insists she will be engaged soon and instead directs him toward Ayls.
Pinkie claims Alys is traditional, meek, religious, etc-even though like what was she thinking. Why didn’t she try to get him with Mari?
They go to the final wedding party and run into Darsee who gives Ayls the book they talked about when Jena was in the hospital.
After the wedding no proposal comes for Jena, Kaleen proposes to Ayls who rejects him and ends up marrying Ayls’ best friend Sherry Looclus (Charlotte Lucas). Jena gets depressed and goes to stay with their family in Lahore. Wickaam hitches his rising star to another lady, with a larger bank account. Will the Binat fortune ever chage? It looks like things will stay the same-but will a visit to Sherry present Ayls with an opportunity to see Darsee in another way?
I actually read this book back in April but had a hard time writing this review. Everyone I follow on instagram, facebook, twitter, etc-loves this book. However, reading it right after Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, I didn’t have such a strong love for it. I didn’t hate it, I really enjoyed it except for one thing-one crucial thing.
So I’ll start with what I didn’t like and then end with everything I did like. I just couldn’t stand the character of Alys.
I know, she is supposed to be Elizabeth, but I just found her to be annoying at times. I felt she was just constantly insisting that her way is the only right way. I like that she encourages people, espechially her students, but what I didn’t like was when she encourages those that she knows she shouldn’t. Her little sister, Lady (Lydia) wants to be a model and her father says no and even though Alys knows that it is a bad idea, she even says it later in the book, she argues for her sister pursuing her dream because “all women have a right to be whatever they want to be”. The sentiment and Alys’ heart is in the right place but Alys knows (better than her father) that her sister lacks the maturity and guidance to navigate the modeling world. Lady’s lack of temperance, youth, inexperience, and “do whatever is fun” mentality would get her in a lot of trouble. Proof of that is shown when they go to the fashion party and she’s there for only a few seconds before everything goes downhill.
Alys also spent a majority of the book against marriage, to which everyone is allowed to their own opinion, I see nothing wrong with that. But for someone who constantly shares and encourages women to be whatever they want to be and accomplish their dreams, but then is very unaccepting of the dream of being a housewife and mother-that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I mean for some people that’s all they really want to be and there is nothing wrong with them choosing that.
The other thing that I didn’t care for was that Ayls throughout the book constantly states everything women can do and achieve without getting married and without a man-but then Alyss and Jena do none of those things until they are married (let alone married to wealthy men). It felt like mixed messages to me.
I liked all the other characters in the book, along with really enojying the storyline. I think this and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors really show how universal the themes of Jane Austen are. And how a lot of Regency standards continue to plague some cultures. I mean as a Latina woman I felt “the ‘need’ to be married” and on my Italian side saw how unmarried, childless women were viewed. I have friends of Indian and Japanese descent and they have shared they feel the same.
I think Kamal also made it clear the class systems in Pride and Prejudice better than a lot of people do. I mean living in 21st century USA (me) you don’t quite understand how unusual it was that someone from an old established family, Mr. Darcy, would be best friends with Charles Bingleys (new money). And reading this book, it really brings the understanding why Caroline was trying so so hard to harpoon Mr. Darcy. Handsome, rich, and the social class they need? He would be a major coup. It also makes it clear why she and her sister were so anti-Jane Bennet and wanted Mr. Bingley with Georgiana. After all the work they have done in social climbing, they didn’t want the Bennet family messing up their plans.
My favorite though had to be Sherry Looclus (Charlotte Lucas,). I thought she was extremely well done. I think Kamal not only understood the character of Charlotte perfectly but understand how to present her in modern culture for readers to really understand her plight. I also thought it was fascinating all she goes through to get married, all the little ceremonies she has to conduct to “interview” as a potential new member of their family.
I always felt for Charlotte, but never really focused on her as the other characters kind of overshadowed her. In this I was rooting for Charlotte/Sherry and I wanted her to have joy and happiness, in any way possible. The first guy she is engaged to goes to Germany and marries a German woman, the next one dies (he had a liver condition he didn’t disclose), she’s infertile, and now any guy her parents pick she has to go through a series of steps to try and have someone deem her worthy. And she still continues on, poor Sherry.
After she married, I turned the pages and read quickly to see if things went well as I just felt for Sherry and I wanted her to happy.
I also love how the principal who has treated Sherry like dirt this whole time, totally changes her tune when she finds out that she is engaged to Kaleen, the school’s owner being his benefactor (Begum Beena da Bagh). Now the principal has to treat Sherry like a princess.
In fact Sherry was the crown jewel in this book. I loved her character!
The Bingleys/Binglas were perfection. I love how Kamal created them. Humeria “Hammy” Binglia (Caroline) and Sumeria “Sammy” Binglia Riyasat (Mrs. Hurst) were just perfect as women of new money trying to raise themselves in society and not always doing the right social cues. They want to speak to people of worth and confuse Sherry Looclus with Sherry Pupels, the politicians wife. Oops!
And Sultan “Jaans” Riyaset (Mr. Hurst) was just perfectly awful. He is fleshed out more here than the just the food-loving man in P&P, and it really showcases how the Bingleys/Binglas are on the search for titles, old classy names, etc-not personality.
I also liked the depiction of Anne. If I was going to rewrite it, I personally like the version of Anne pretending to be sick so she doesn’t have to be this perfect woman her mother is always bragging about. But in this she was a famous model who fell to a mysterious illness and even though that stopped some of her plans and ambitions she was going to persevere and not be silenced. I really liked that and thought it was a great addition.
You can also clearly see that Soniah Kamal loves literature and I really enjoyed the scenes when Ayls and Darsee discuss the different books they love.
So I didn’t hate the book, in fact this is the best depiction of Charlotte Lucas I have ever seen-but as Ayls wasn’t my favorite depiction of Elizabeth I didn’t absolutely love it. I definitely think Austen fans should check it out-I’m not kidding when I think this is a fantastic depiction of Charlotte Lucas.
For more Pride and Prejudice, go to At Legend’s End
For more depictions of Charlotte Lucas, go to The Colonel
For more Jane Austen adaptions, go to Sense and Sensibility (1995)
For more Jane Austen book adaptions, go to Interference: Friday Night Lights Meets Emma