A Desi P&P Retelling // REVIEW: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Title: Unmarriageable
Author: Soniah Kamal
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Publisher: Allison and Busby
Part of a Series?: No, A Standalone
I Got A Copy Through: HarperCollinsIndia (THANK YOU!)
Buy Links: Amazon IN || Google Play Books
Blurb Description: In this retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, the five Binat sisters and their marriage-obsessed mother navigate a world where money trumps morality and double standards rule the day.
A scandal and vicious rumor in the Binat family has 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 school girls. Knowing that many of her students won't make it to graduation without dropping out to marry and start having children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire them to dream of more.
When an invitation arrives for the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for eligible--and rich--bachelors, certain that their luck is about to change. On the first night of the festivities, Alys's lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of one of the most eligible bachelors. But his friend, Valentine Darsee, is clearly unimpressed by the family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her, quickly dismissing him and his snobbish ways.
But 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. 

I LOVE Pride and Prejudice. I’ve loved it from the moment I picked up my older sister’s brown leather-bound tome and read, ‘It’s a universally acknowledged truth that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife…’ I LOVED Darcy and Elizabeth’s banter, I even loved Mr. Bingley and Jane and the houses and the era and pretty much everything except for Mrs. Bennet
I even love the movie (the Keira Knightley version)

The starting scene in Unmarriageable has Alysba (Elizabeth) Binat (Bennet) teaching a class of young Pakistani girls Jane Austen and asking them to interpret the ‘It’s a universally acknowledged truth…’ to something more suitable to their current lives and she tried teaching them all about

I think it was that first chapter that raised my hopes sky-high – this was not ONLY a desi P&P retelling but ALSO a FEMINIST DESI P&P Retelling? COULD BOOKS GET ANY BETTER?
“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.”

While I enjoyed (THOROUGHLY) all the general P&P antics – Quitty’s (Kitty’s) ridiculous theatrics, Jena’s (Jane’s) understated support and wisdom, the general introduction of desi society and weddings, the fancy houses and ALL THE FOOD, I was a little taken aback by the fact that this was NOT REALLY a feminist retelling.

For starters, and this REALLY bothered me – Why is MARRIAGE the solution to everything? I understand that certain members of the book were (and have always been, even in the original) conditioned to think that way (AHEM *MRS. BENNET*), but, by the end, even our highly progressive Alysba Binat thought that marriage was the one thing that could solve everything. I feel like the book didn’t really deal with the reality of marriage – that it’s not the pearly gates to a perfect, blissful life as it was painted out to be.

I think this hit me because as young impressionable girls pick this book up, that’s the impression this book will give them – MARRIAGE IS THE ONE SOCIAL INSTITUTION THAT YOU SHOULD STRIVE TO BECAUSE IT WILL BE PERFECT. Problems and irrevocable differences can’t exist after that. No, I’m not a cynical person, but I wish that this book also highlighted that marriage wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, THAT’S ALL.

Still, as always, I enjoyed Elizabeth and Darcy’s retold characters, the love for books and also, that beautiful cover.

Would I recommend it? Only with a piece of salt and a word of caution – but otherwise, GO AHEAD AND ENJOY!
Soniah Kamal
Soniah Kamal is an award-winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel 'Unmarriageable' is a retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice and is set in Pakistan. Soniah Kamal’s debut novel, An Isolated Incident, was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah's TEDx talk, “Redreaming Your Dream,” is about regrets and second chances. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, Catapult, The Normal School, The Chicago Quarterly Review, The Missing Slate, BuzzFeed, The James Dickey Review, Scroll.in and Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized.
Are you a Pride and Prejudice fan? Do you read retellings?

Have you read Unmarriageable? What did you think of it?

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