by Soniah Kamal
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.
I generally dread retellings, no matter what kind they are. When it comes to classics and more importantly, when it comes to Pride and Prejudice, I have been very hesitant about picking up the retellings. Simply because I feared that they would not be able to do justice to the original while also adding something of their own. I finally pushed aside the reluctance and requested this one and I am glad to report that I was not disappointed in the least.
“It was a truth, universally acknowledged, … that people enter our lives in order to recommend reads.”
Kamal has managed something amazing with this one. She’s managed to bring the very beloved part of the classic to us while making sure to add genuine Pakistani flavour to it. Her characters feel and read like the characters from P & P but manage to stand on their own due to the author’s really great effort in adding the reality of the Pakistani traditions and norms.
There are many things that perhaps veered from the original and made this one stand on its own two feet. The additions and differences makes this book so much better because it has modern problems that comes with centuries old worries and that’s a blend anyone from Indian/Pakistani family will be able to relate to. It’s not perhaps the perfect book but you know what? I don’t mind it, I loved that it did have tiny flaws and that it did have those original very famous scenes incorporated into the plot.
The similarities are, I think, pretty obvious but even the characters of the Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are written very well with enough differences from the original that they do seem real enough. Alysba and Valentine are well written on their own and maybe where the book maybe fails is when it tries to introduce romance because that didn’t work out as well as I would have liked it to. Their personalities are so different and perhaps, they could have worked really wonderfully as friends or even becoming close friends but romance felt a bit far-fetched by the end of the book.
Whereas the other characters felt more real and plausible in this day and age. From Charlotte Lucas (Sherry in this one) truly enjoying her marriage to Mr. Collins (Mr. Kaleen) and then there’s the whole Wickham character doing his thing with Georgiana a year previous to the story. The side characters really brought out their best, I think. From Mr. and Mrs. Binat to their drastically different daughters, each with their own set of realities. I really loved reading about a Kitty who’s fairly healthy and perhaps chubby and how she fared in her own household, how Mary becomes so religious that she can’t seem to find normality in human flaws, how Jane is gentle yet quite strong in her own way and how Lydia (Lady) perhaps despite suffering from the same fate has her own set of pros. It’s absolutely a delightful read over all.
I think what Kamal really succeeded in doing was bringing the old charm of P & P and mixing it with modern Pakistani life, from Alysba’s age of 30 (good god, who is going to marry her?!) to discussing women’s agency in this day and life to the serious topic of abortion. From Pakistani culture (which frankly sounded too much like Indian culture and scared me at times) to the amazing food descriptions, from Jane Austen’s amazing works to the author’s own contribution to this particular novel about humanity, this book really managed to capture my attention to the point where I devoured it in few days.
Anyone who’s ever loved Pride and Prejudice and anyone’s who’s ever wanted a good taste of Desi version of it (we are not going to talk about Gurinder Chadha’s version of it, let’s all collectively forget about it, okay?) then this is the book for you. It might have a few tiny problems when it comes to certain points but overall, it’s an absolute joy to read it and relate to it in such a direct way because if you are desi like me then trust me, you are gonna be meeting some real people in these characters.