Random House £14.99

Review: Marriage Material By Sathnam Sanghera

 

The increasing liberalisation of British social rules and values may be good news for women and minorities, but it must make hard work for writers of contemporary fiction. It’s a nicer world in which we can all own property and marry whom we like, but it removes much of the obvious drama from modern life and leaves all the best stories in history. Where would Romeo and Juliet have been if he could have just sent a text message? Or Pride and Prejudice if Lizzie Bennet had gone off to work in the City? Or The Old Wives’ Tale if the Baines sisters had grown up in late-20th-century Wolverhampton?

This last is the historical context in which Sathnam Sanghera has set Marriage Material, a modern “remix” of Arnold Bennett’s classic novel, based this time around a Sikh family living in the Midlands city. Constance and Sophia Baines become Kamaljit and Surinder Bains, who work in their father’s newsagent in the 1960s. Theirs is the Wolverhampton of Enoch Powell and the Wolverhampton Transport Department turban wars. The modern section of the novel is set in 2011, against the backdrop of that summer’s riots. Prodigal son Arjan is the one who uncovers family secrets when he returns to the family corner shop, following the sudden death of his father, from his creative job and his white fiancée in London.

Making Arjan the fulcrum upon which these two cultures pivot is a stroke of genius. As the only son upon whom rest the hopes of his family, his situation distils the dilemma of anyone who has ever left home for a fancy job in the big city. While his fiancée in London studies books about the Sikh religion and Punjabi culture, he watches local children “running into the shop just to shout ‘Paki’ at my mum before running out again, a depressing urban version of Knock Down Ginger”. Arjan is stuck between London and Wolverhampton, youth and responsibility, more than he is ever trapped between two “cultures”.

What emerges is an engaging comic novel which shows that however much Britain seems to change, some things, such as families, remain the same. “Families are the last people who should be entrusted with the task of finding you a spouse,” Arjan says, “given that they are incapable of appreciating that you may have changed since the age of 12.” Maybe history doesn’t have all the best stories, after all. Maybe some of them are set in old-fashioned corner shops in Wolverhampton.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
booksHere are 50 everyday words and phrases that came from the Bard
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
music

Risking ridicule, they are driven by a burning desire to keep entertaining

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio (left) could team up with British director Danny Boyle for the Steve Jobs (right) biopic
film
Arts & Entertainment
The next wig thing: 'Drag Queens of London'
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams as Arya and Rory McCann as The Hound
TV
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Rush hour: shoppers go sale crazy in Barkers, Kensington
film
Arts & Entertainment
Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes play Catherine and Heathcliff in Pete Kosminsky's 1992 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights
booksGoogle Doodle celebrates Charlotte Brontë's 198th birthday
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Robin Thicke with his Official Number 1 Award for 'Blurred Lines', the most downloaded track in UK music history
Music
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello
Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

Arts & Entertainment
Tom Baker who played the Doctor longer than any other actor
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

    It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
    Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

    Migrants in Britain a decade on

    They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
    Why musicians play into their old age

    Why musicians play into their old age

    Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
    How can you tell a gentleman?

    How can you tell a gentleman?

    A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
    Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

    Sam Wallace

    Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
    Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

    Through the screen

    British Pathé opens its archives
    The man behind the papier mâché mask

    Frank Sidebottom

    The man behind the papier mâché mask
    Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
    Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

    Boston runs again

    Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
    40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

    40 years of fostering and holding the babies

    In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents