Review: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

I had high hopes for Unmarriageable when I started reading it. However, I quickly became disillusioned with it, for a few reasons. If you want a very strict retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern day Pakistan, then Unmarriageable might be right for you. However, it wasn’t right for me.

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.

Unmarriageable CoverA 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 exhilaratng exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood. Goodreads

I received an eARC of Unmarriageable from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Unmarriageable needs trigger warnings for pervasive fatphobia and colorism from nearly every character, sex work antagonistic comments, constant reminders of a character’s barrenness using the term “useless uterus,” mentions of past trauma, and mentions of acid attacks, rapes, beheadings, etc.

Kamal excelled at creating a beautiful yet realistic view of small-town Pakistan for the readers. The culture and localities that she described made me feel like I was really a part of the story. Unfortunately, if I had been, I would likely have run screaming from every member of the Binat family, the way I would have from a majority of the original’s Bennet family.

Unmarriageable is a very true retelling of the original Pride and Prejudice. You can see the bones of the story in everything that Kamal wrote.

However, where Austen’s characters had redeemable qualities to each of them, even the silliest of the sisters, Kamal’s characters were unbearably cruel to each other. I mentioned this in the trigger warnings, but every single character teased and tormented Qitty for being fat throughout the novel. The only time that this is not mentioned as a negative is when Alys brings some plus size modeling magazines back from Lahore for her. Qitty goes on to get her own fame in the epilogue, but I felt cheated of her growth into something other than ‘the fat sister’ in the narrative. Alys’s refusal to lighten her skin is also discussed at length, mostly in negatives.

Nearly every character in this story gets a paragraph of their own in this story, since it’s told from a third person omniscient point of view. The only characters who I noticed that didn’t get a point of view paragraph or two were Jena and Juju. I think the story would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of their much kinder thoughts.

I also found it difficult to keep up with the many different perspectives that kept being brought in. It really was like changing perspectives every other paragraph, which made it feel like a lot of work to get immersed in the story.

Overall, this story did not work for me. I just didn’t like anyone in this book, and that was really disappointing for me. For all of the reasons above, I do not recommend Unmarriageable.

ABOUT UNMARRIAGEABLE

Title: Unmarriageable

Author: Soniah Kamal

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Length: 352 Pages

Release Date: January 22, 2019

Rating: Not Recommended

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Representation: Pakistani author, Pakistani main characters and cast, gay side character, chronically ill side character

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