• Sunday, July 03, 2022

Arts and Culture

A marriage of two cultures

BARING HER SOUL: Monica Ali (Photo Credit: Yolande De Vries)


BRITISH literary hero Monica Ali introduced herself with the brilliant Booker Prize shortlisted debut novel Brick Lane, which was later turned into a movie.

Since then, the acclaimed author has delivered diverse books, which have been translated into 26 languages and turned her into an important storyteller with a global reputation for great writing.

She makes a welcome return with her first novel in just over a decade with Love Marriage, which has already received glowing reviews and been described as a huge, bounteous story, lit from end to end with human variety and storytelling brilliance. The gripping story of two cultures, assumptions and love, revolves around a woman engaged to a fellow doctor, who begins to ask important questions about her relationship in the lead-up to the wedding day and what love marriage actually means.

Eastern Eye caught up with the much-loved writer to discuss her literary journey, new book, and key advice for aspiring authors.

How do you look back on your amazing journey as a writer?
If you’d told me when I was a child it was possible that one day I would be a published author I’d have thought you were mad. I grew up poor and we didn’t have money to buy books. I borrowed books from the library and was always escaping into novels. But I didn’t think people like me could write them and get them published. So, I look back with a sense of awe and a little pride.

You were immediately thrust into the spotlight with your debut Brick Lane; how do you reflect on that now?
I wish I’d been able to enjoy it more. My children were very young at the time and though I felt very lucky that the book was published in so many countries, it often took me away from them. That was tough. I was thrilled, of course, that the book found its way to so many readers, but at the same time I was a little overwhelmed.

Did that put pressure on your subsequent writing?
Strangely enough, I don’t think it did. I’ve never thought about ‘building a readership’. I had no desire to capitalise on success. I just followed my own path, for better or worse.

You have been unpredictable with your subject choices since then. What draws you to a particular story?
For me, it’s always about the characters first and foremost. I can’t start writing until I feel I know them well and – since I’m going to be spending an awful lot of time with them, have developed a certain fondness for them all.

Her new book
Her new book

What is it that inspired your new book Love Marriage?
So many things! It is hard to settle on just one, but I’ll say – my love for Jane Austen, who wrote so much about engagements and marriage.

Tell us about the story?
Yasmin Ghorami and Joe Sangster, both junior doctors, are engaged. He’s handsome, sensitive, and kind (and rich too), but cheats on her. Yasmin shocks herself (she’s always been so good) by embarking on revenge sex with a colleague. She feels awful – at least Joe confessed, but she can’t bring herself to tell him what she’s done. What she doesn’t know is that Joe is a sex addict. He’s in therapy to try to understand this compulsion that fills him with self-loathing. Then there’s all the complications of their two very different families coming together.

Who are you hoping connects with the book?
Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship or who has any experience of being part of a family that isn’t entirely perfect.

What is the key message you want to convey?
What I want most is for people to enjoy the book, to find it humorous and entertaining and, above all, a good old-fashioned propulsive read.

Your stories and characters are always relatable. Is that a conscious decision and do you base them on real people?
I’m very interested in what makes people tick, why we are the way we are, with other people and with ourselves as well. Inevitably, we all make assumptions about other people, and what I like doing is questioning those assumptions, and stripping away the layers. If that makes the characters relatable, then that’s great.

Do you believe in a love marriage?
Well, it’s complicated. As you’ll see if you read the book.

Do you feel the pressure of being an acclaimed author?
Being any kind of author is kind of tough. You spend years locked away in silence at your desk and then emerge blinking into the daylight, feeling very exposed and having bared your soul to the world.

Which writers do you admire?
So many, but some of my favourites are Austen, (Leo) Tolstoy, RK Narayan, Graham Greene, and VS Naipaul.

How do you feel before a book of yours is published?
It varies, but with this one, after a ten-year hiatus, I’m nervous and also excited.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Be curious about everything. Curiosity is the greatest asset you can have. And read a lot! Writing courses are optional, but reading is essential.

What can we expect next from you?
I’m adapting Love Marriage for television with New Pictures and absolutely loving
the process.

Why do you love being a writer?
Because I can lose myself in my writing and am insatiably curious about the world and people in it. Also, because sometimes the satisfaction of the right words in the right order in a single sentence is enough.


Eastern Eye

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