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Love Marriage by Monica Ali review: A novel of immense brightness

Monica Ali's latest novel explores the cultural and generational divides within two families brought together by marriage.

Love Marriage is set in modern day London Photo by Timur Valiev on Unsplash

Love Marriage is set in modern day London. Image: Timur Valiev on Unsplash

After a 10-year hiatus from publishing novels, the Booker-shortlisted author Monica Ali returns with the much-awaited Love Marriage. This is a warm and welcoming book, styled in witty, graceful prose. With a richly drawn cast of characters, the story opens as a social comedy, tendering the complexities of two families from different cultural backgrounds as they come together in modern-day London.

The novel’s heart lies with Yasmin Ghorami, a trainee doctor, navigating life as a medic, and her eventful relationship with fiancee Joe Sangster, a gynaecologist. Ali ramps up the humour, as well as the woes, of negotiating with relatives on both sides while preparing for a wedding.

Ali movingly conveys the power of shame in shaping lives across generations

Love Marriage by Monica Ali is out on February 3 (Virago, £18.99)

The story shines in its exploration of dysfunctional families and delves into the difficulties of being truly honest with those we love. Ali considers a range of topics with sensitivity: addiction, sexual assault, affairs, neglect, faith, therapy, attraction.

There are various epiphanies, as long-held secrets unfurl across the narrative. Throughout the novel, a history of familial trauma reverberates. Ali movingly conveys the power of shame in shaping lives across generations.

Also involving is Ali’s depiction of the NHS, which offers a new window into the tireless work of its staff. Scenes of Yasmin’s compassionate interactions with the elderly patients on her ward are particularly moving. Repeatedly, Yasmin witnesses the systematic failures that face doctors in England – both in the underfunding and privatisation of hospitals.

Although she is clearly a capable and caring physician, Yasmin constantly questions whether or not medicine is her vocation. Conversations about unusual medical cases with her father, Shaokat, who is adedicated GP, give insight into their understanding, as well as highlighting the duty she feels.

Ali carefully outlines the microaggressions and gaslighting that Yasmin faces – from racist incidents at work to the exoticising comments of Joe’s mother, Harriet.

This white feminist intellectual is desperate to showcase her liberal credentials to Yasmin’s British Bengali family, who respond with unwavering politeness. But Ali never fails to complicate her characters, who resist easy categorisation. Each figure is tenderly observed, in their hopes and frailties. In particular, Yasmin’s mother, Anisah, emerges as a powerful speaker of truth, who finds fulfilment in unforeseen places. 

Love Marriage is a novel of immense brightness, even as it traces painful experiences. While its ending left me uncertain, I remained invested in the lives of these characters. Even as their hopes for stability appeared fragile, my fingers were crossed for them. 

Annie Hayter is a writer and poet

@AnnieHayter

You can buy Love Marriage from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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