Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera
The blurb for Marriage Material l reminded me of Rosie Dastgir’s A Small Fortune, a book I really enjoyed when I read it upon publication. It is therefore no surprise that I was incredibly keen to read Sathnam Sanghera’s new novel.
After his father’s death, Arjan Banga returns to Wolverhampton to support his mother, leaving his comfortable and trendy existence in London behind. To his amazement his mother wants to keep running the family convenience store. Alternating between flashbacks and the present day the novel tells the complex story of a multi-generational family trying to make itself complete while being torn between two versions of England.
First Impressions: The first chapter is a brutally honest account of life working in a convenience store. Sanghera doesn’t flinch when describing the casual prejudice experienced daily by Asian store owners. Nothing he said surprised me and I recalled a time last summer when, during an unseasonably heavy downpour, I overheard a customer commenting to the English-accented Asian man behind the till, ‘This rain must remind you of Pakistan.’
Highlights: Ranjit, Arjan’s childhood friend, is the most genuinely hilarious character I have come across for a very long time. Sure, he is a culmination of many stereotypes but with Sanghera’s skillful descriptions he authentic and believable. I assumed the sequence when the two friends were preparing for the anticipated Wolverhampton riots was Ranjit’s single moment to shine but much to my delight there was more of the humour to come. Arjan’s brief description of trying to keep up his running in Wolverhampton was also delightful. I thought Sanghera also littered his novel with interesting facts about the Sikh experience in the UK. He assumes an intelligent reader who has has some general background knowledge and I really enjoyed learning more.
If I was an editor: I would applaud Sanghera on his talent as a writer. The novel was moving along nicely and began to wonder when the crisis or turning point would occur and what it would actually be as nothing was really signposted. When it arrived it took me completely by surprise. The change of tone and shocking series of events will stay with me for a while. I really found it disturbing and heartbreaking but the abrupt change attests to Sanghera’s writing ability.
Overall: A superb novel about relationships and I have only scratched the surface in this review. There are many more characters worth getting to know. I am now keen to read Sanghera’s earlier work The Boy with the Top Knot.
Marriage Material: 5 stars
Thank you to Random House Cornerstone for a copy of the ARC to review.