Literary fiction is not my genre at all and I usually run away from such books, but it’s hard to resist when it’s by an Indian author, set in India but also being published internationally. And I thought the author’s previous book The Windfall was a fascinating enough read, so I wanted to read this as well. And this was fascinating too but I’m still processing my thoughts on it.
One thing I can say about the writing style is that it’s very very engaging and hooks us right from the beginning, and I never wanted to put it down. I literally read it cover to cover in just a couple of hours at a time when I thought I was going into a reading slump, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. But the main theme of the book is about each of the main characters trying to find themselves and their own happiness, so the plot actually meanders without any general direction, except that it takes place at a desi destination wedding at a posh country club. That doesn’t mean it gets boring, because the author keeps us entertained with all the gossip and drama during a desi wedding and it’s all very relatable because our weddings are mayhem. I also don’t get to read a lot of books set in India, so that was a nice change, and I could actually empathize with some of the characters’ reactions to how India has changed.
However, it’s the characters about whom I’m not sure how to feel. The story mainly centers around the Das family, Neel, Radha and their daughter Tina alongwith Tina’s best friend Marianne. I really liked following the stories of both Neel and Radha, divorced but still friends and even partners in some ways. There’s a great understanding between them and I liked that they were able to make peace with each other, and also encourage each other to find future happiness. Radha’s relationship with David is sweet and I admired how self aware she was about what she wanted in life; Neel on the other hand is pretty skeptical about how to start dating again but it was a delight watching him try to navigate the idea of new love with Jyoti. Jyoti was another character who I thought was wonderful, sure of what she wants and what works for her and never letting anyone else dictate her choices. There is quite an ensemble cast too that left an impression on me, especially the wedding planner Bubbles and the groom’s grandma Nona who were both just hoots.
But it was the two young women Tina and Marianne who infuriated me. Tina is about my age, single and totally unmotivated in her work. I could really understand her desire to find both happiness in her personal life as well the drive to do more meaningful work; but when she started her rants about racism, privilege, poverty etc etc, it all felt very performative bullshit because she herself is extremely privileged coming from a rich family, an Ivy League education and having a job that affords her the luxury to live alone in a two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I also felt like she was fetishizing India’s poverty in the way she interacted with some of the characters and patted herself on the back when she thought she had helped someone. And while she does realize what she wants to do with her life, she is still the same person and I didn’t see much deeper changes in her.
Marianne on the other hand thinks her wonderful, sweet boyfriend at home in America is boring and wants excitement in life. As she recollects all her past relationships, it’s painfully obvious that she has a thing for exotic men and just wants a rich POC arm candy who will take her on wild trips all across the globe. I didn’t really understand if she realized how immature she was being or just gave up because she couldn’t find a hot rich desi guy interested in her during the wedding, so I can’t even say if there was any character development for her. With both Tina and Marianne, I don’t want to be too judgmental but they really are messy characters and I probably would have liked their depiction more if the author had treated it like a satire but it didn’t feel so. And if it isn’t a satirical take on privilege and the colonial gaze, then the utter lack of character development is pretty dissatisfying.
To conclude, I really enjoyed reading this book even if half the main cast pissed me off, because the other half did make up for it. And one can always rely on some desi drama for making any book entertaining. If you like books about an ensemble of characters and their varied messy relationships, then this book is perfect for you – it’s equal parts funny, dramatic and eye opening. But if you are someone who wants a coherent plot, then this is not for you. The author has a very unique take on the rich community in India and I’m looking forward to more of her works.
PS: Thank you to Ballantine Books and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.