Best-selling author Monica Ali on her first new novel in a decade
“I feel quite nervous,” admits British writer Monica Ali, as she recounts The National about his new book. “It has been 10 years since my previous novel came out. But I’m also very excited about it, ”she quickly adds, with a rich laugh. ” For the same reason. The reception so far has been nothing short of amazing, truly gratifying.
His latest novel, Love marriage, recently hit bookstores across continents and marks a triumphant return for Ali. It follows the lives of two (very different) families, brought together by the engagement of central character Yasmin Ghorami, a young British Muslim woman whose Bengali parents emigrated to Britain decades ago, along with her fiancé, Joe Sangster. .
Yasmin and Joe are junior doctors. They understandably have concerns about how their dramatically different family dynamics will gel as the family introductions unfold, but they’re confident their love will carry them through.
If only. Instead, the new relationships initiate a process of disentangling between family members, as well as Yasmin and Joe.
It’s a rich and diverse story, overflowing with wit, warmth, sensuality and humanity, with characters whose relatively “normal” yet idiosyncratic exteriors cover complex pasts, denials, secrets and betrayals. Joe, for example, has a hidden addiction and reluctantly submits to Sandor, a psychotherapist. Sandor told her early on that the healing journey “is about honesty. Be honest with yourself and those around you. This won’t be the only time Sandor’s words apply to several of the characters’ circumstances.
It’s a difficult artistic feat to cogently orchestrate so many disparate yet connected journeys, but Ali handles it with aplomb.
So what were the embryonic roots of this complex story? “It came out of two different stories,” Ali explains. “One was about [Joe’s mother], Harriet, a sort of liberal Luvvie feminist icon from north London with a colorful past… The other was about Yasmin, who was a young doctor, and her love life. I wasn’t sure if I would write either of these as a novel, but I had a rare moment of inspiration.
“Like a lightbulb moment, thinking, what if I put the two together? At that moment, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun to write, and I ran off.
The ‘fun’ element is present to a great degree, along with a huge volume of warmth and compassion for its characters and their circumstances.
The characters’ sexual relationships are a driving force in terms of storytelling, Ali says. “In terms of character development, it’s how the protagonists grapple with their identity, who they are, and how they want to be in the world.” These themes are handled brilliantly and compassionately by Ali, who in the opening paragraph of the book gives us a subtle masterclass in storytelling.
But there is a lot to Love marriage. Set at the time of Britain’s Brexit vote, it tackles thorny issues of racism and racial dynamics in multicultural Britain. In one passage, Yasmin is confronted in the ward where she works with a racist relative of a patient, and when Yasmin calls her out to be so, the woman tries to turn the tables on Yasmin and asks, possibly with the support of the hospital trust, an apology.
Trying to draw Ali into what could potentially be responsible for the rise in racism and racial tensions lately is in vain, and his response is eminently sensible.
” My God ! she says. “How to sum it up? I think it takes a novel of about 140,000 words to say something meaningful about it. It’s so complicated and nuanced and I find that one of the things that’s really difficult right now is when people speak in sound bites or short sentences or aphorisms it just doesn’t capture the reality. Or the complexity of what is actually happening.
It is tempting, given the rich relevance of psychotherapy in the book, with Sandor’s emphasis on “compassion and connection,” to project this idea of the healing power of psychoanalysis on a national scale. Does Ali think that fiction such as Love marriage and other works of art could create an engaging space for some kind of collective introspection, understanding and eventually change?
“If only! That would be an amazing thing,” Ali says. drawn” and all of that. And if you look at the United States, where I think there are deeper and much more divided partisan lines, that’s not a good direction, that’s not a good thing.
“I think one of the things we know from studies is that fiction can develop empathetic abilities in readers. Empathy works like a muscle and you need to exercise it. Reading novels is a great way to do that, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective. If people choose to do it, it’s doable.
Cinema can also exercise our empathetic muscles, and fortunately for those who are not familiar with reading Love marriage, they may get to know its rich cast of characters when the book materializes on our television screens. The rights to the story were recently auctioned off and purchased by New Pictures, and Ali is excited for this next incarnation of his characters.
“We’re just getting started, but it’s exciting,” she says. “I love working collaboratively, I love spending even more time with Yasmin and Joe. Also, there were scenes that were cut from the book for length reasons and so on, which I can now resurrect – it’s really very nice!
As for any clues on what or who to expect, or when it will be released, Ali says “watch this space”.
“That’s all I can say for now!”
Updated: February 20, 2022, 2:16 p.m.