Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Genres: Chick Lit, Cultural, Debut, Fiction
Unmarriageable is one of the winter books I was most looking forward to reading in January. Author Soniah Kamal takes Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice and updates it to fit into Pakistan in the year 2000. Every detail is the same, but with an Eastern flair. The Bennetts are the Binats, Darcy is Darsee, and Wickham is Wickaam. Other than name changes Kamal shapes her characters straight from Austen’s mold, with the only differences being that Alys and Jena now work, teaching English. The question is: does the novel work? Or are some classics more difficult to translate to contemporary life?
If you like broad comedy then Unmarriageable will be humorous reading. For me, I appreciated Austen’s subtlety in poking gentle fun at the classism of the times. There is nothing subtle in Kamal’s writing. Mrs. Binat is a dreadfully vulgar, outlandish caricature who cares more for the prestige of getting her daughters properly married than she does for their health. Mr. Binat takes shambling disinterest and laziness to new heights, while Lady (Kitty in the original) is Paris Hilton on steroids. The nuance found in the original is completely gone. Instead, the novel comes off with a sitcom feel complete with oversized characters, stilted humor, and, sometimes, cheesy dialogue.
Later in the novel Kamal does take her foot off the gauche-accelerator and brings to light important issues against women that exist in Pakistani society. These include valuing women’s ‘honor’ by not reporting rape (thereby allowing rapist to continue their crimes), dowry burnings, and honor killings. She handles these with a grace and incisiveness that goes a long way to redeeming the book. All in all, I’d recommend Unmarriageable with the caveat to anyone attached to Austen’s style of writing—this may not appeal. But if you’re a fan of cheesy romcom movies and outrageous theatrics then this will be a quick, fun read.