All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

on August 12, 2019

Soniah Kamal
Allison & Busby
2019, 354p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal. But Alys Binat is resolute she will not marry.

This warm and witty tug-of-love between mothers, daughters and rich, eligible bachelors is a fresh take on Jane Austen’s original.

This was so much fun! One of the best adaptations of Pride & Prejudice that I’ve read. It’s faithful to the book but with a fresh, modern spin that really encompasses Pakistan and I thought it was amazing.

Alys Binat comes from a wealthy, well regarded family and for a good portion of her life, they wanted for nothing. But then her father was betrayed by his own brother and now they are practically penniless. Alys and her sister Jena work as teachers at a prestigious girls finishing school. They also have three younger sisters Mari, Qitty and Lady. Mrs Binat longs for her daughters to be married but both Alys and Jena are of an age now where it seems unlikely that they will make excellent matches, especially given there’s no money left for a dowry. Alys is also incredibly adamant that she will not marry as a social contract to better her situation, nor will she stoop to trying to catch a man. She’s a successful independent woman who can earn a wage and pay her way and as she tries to tell her own students, there’s more to life than immediately falling into marriage and babies when you’re still only a teenager.

Despite their misfortune, the Binats are still lucky enough to warrant invitations to important social events and it’s here that lovely Jena catches the eye of a wealthy bachelor, who is amiable and lovely – shame about his snobby friend Valentine Darsee who insults Alys within her hearing and also his two sisters (hilariously named Hammy and Sammy, short for Humeria and Sumeria) who look down their noses at everything. Mrs Binat is so hopeful that her Jena might not only marry finally but marry well.

The book tracks very closely to the original, with all the major players included although some take on a bit of a twist, especially Sherry Looclus, the Charlotte Lucas of this version. She’s in her 40s, willing to sacrifice for any marriage, especially one that will make her financially secure. I felt quite interested in Sherry’s story, because it does appear to be one of the few places where the author does go in a new direction and adjust the story a little to suit a more modern timeframe. The other is what happens to Darsee’s young sister, which remains the same but with more modern consequences.

The social whirl of Pakistan is a huge portion of this book, with extravagant wedding celebrations that last for days and have multiple ceremonies and the food and entertainment portion that go with it. The food is quite lovingly described as are the outfits and jewellery. The struggle of being a family who has had it all and now has little takes its toll on the often overwrought Mrs Binat, who is every bit as frivolous and overbearing as the original. I quite enjoyed the role of Mr Binat and his shameful realisation of how his own inadequacies and inaction has an impact on everything that happens, including allowing the young and silly Lady to go away on holiday against Alys’ wishes and the ruin she almost brings down upon them all. Lady herself is a thoroughly modern day selfish and self-absorbed teenager who cares little how she gets something as long as she ends up getting it. I found myself wanting to slap her more than once. Mari is an overzealous Muslim determined to bring back propriety and burqas and Qitty is beautiful but often maligned about her weight by Lady and even her mother. The way in which Qitty turns this into a positive and embraces her own true self is rather delightful.

For me, there’s a strength in the relationship between Alys and Darsee, which starts off very badly when she overhears him class her as neither attractive not intelligent enough for him. Darsee and Alys butt heads quite often and her reaction when he proposes the first time is so much fun to read. And so are the small moments, such as when he takes his leave abruptly after Alys learns of Lady’s disappearance and you know why he’s doing it, because he blames himself and is sure she will blame him too after all, he knew about Wickhaam and kept it quiet. And Alys thinks he’s departing abruptly because of the scandal that will engulf their family, how it will prove everything he ever said correct. I enjoyed the way they found common ground in literature too. It made me feel as if the two of them would have an actual meaningful relationship with things in common that they could discuss and enjoy, because relationships in 2019 are much different to how they were when Pride & Prejudice was being written and set. Couples were tied together by other things.

I found this to be clever and funny. It sticks to the core storyline quite admirably but isn’t afraid to deviate a bit either where it needs to for the sake of its modern setting or the culture of Pakistan. I loved Alys and her independence, her questioning of her students, her push for them to seek more for themselves and to step outside a box, even though it often meant she was called in and reprimanded. This was familiar but yet different and I thought it was fabulous.


Book #121 of 2019

I’m also counting this read towards my Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019. I’m using it to tick off prompt #18 – Romance or love story. It’s the 13th book read for the challenge. Halfway there!


2 responses to “Review: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

  1. […] Romance or love story – Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal. My review. […]

  2. […] I read it?: Yes! My review. I really liked […]

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