January 15th 2019
Received from publisher.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that there will always be new attempts at retelling and adapting Pride and Prejudice and that some will excel in their efforts while others will fall flat. Fortunately, Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable falls into the former of the two.
Unmarriageable takes the plot of Jane Austen’s classic English novel and modernizes it by setting it in Pakistan during the early 2000s. The “Bennets” are now the “Binats“, a family who went from well off to more middle class due to jealous relatives. I loved the changes to the family’s back story and Kamal does an excellent job at keeping the essence of the original characters and their relationships while adding her own modern twists. Elizabeth Bennet is now Alysba (Alys) Binat, a teacher at an all-girls school and a feminist who tries to teach her students and her younger sisters about the importance of being independent and getting an education.
However, it’s not just the character of Alys. This entire novel has a feminist feel to it. I loved that the minor female characters like Sherry Looclus (the Charlotte Lucas character), Qitty Binat (aka Kitty Bennet) and Annie were given a voice in this adaptation. It was refreshing to read parts of the story from their perspective. And even though they weren’t meant to be likeable, I appreciated that we got to see the story from the Bingla (Bingley) sisters as well since it makes it clear as to what their true colours are. Furthermore, the characters are seen facing issues that are familiar to women today, including abortion and fighting against the traditions relating to marriage and the role of women including having children. All that being said, the men in the book are given little notice and as a result characters like Darsee (the Mr. Darcy character) and Bungles (the Mr. Bingley character) are not as well developed.
The other thing I loved about Unmarriageable was how it doesn’t shy away from its source material. Pride and Prejudice is not only name dropped, but referenced and discussed by various characters. In fact, the novel begins with Alys asking her class to rewrite the famous first line of the novel. In addition, Unmarriageable is also a love letter to Austen and literature in general. Both Alys and Darsee are bibliophiles and I loved that the two were able to eventually bond over their love of books in addition to their experiences of studying and living abroad even if the love epiphany on Alys side felt a bit rushed.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t getting a bit fatigued with all the Pride and Prejudice retellings. That being said, I truly enjoyed Unmarriageable especially how it veered from its inspiration. Forget what I said about the last Pride and Prejudice retelling I read as Unmarriageable now tops my list of favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Read it if you are interested in a South Asian spin on an old classic or if you’re a fan of Austen and books in general.
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.