William Heinemann, £14.99. Order at a discount from the The Independent Bookshop
Book review: Marriage Material, By Sathnam Sanghera
A playful novel that 'shoplifts' from Bennett's fiction to give us something completely new
Friday 20 September 2013
Marriage Material is the story of three generations of a Punjabi Sikh family, set against the backdrop of their Wolverhampton corner shop. Mr Bains arrives in England from the West Punjab in the 1960s with just a shilling in his pocket, from which he builds a thriving business, eventually making enough money to send to India for his wife and two daughters, Kamaljit and Surinder, to join him.
Get this book at the discounted price of £12.99 from The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030
Following his death, the shop is taken over by Kamaljit and her husband Tanvir, before history repeats itself when she outlives him, forcing their only son, 35-year-old graphic designer Arjan, to return home to help her. The setting flits between the 1960s and the present day, but it is through Arjan's eyes that we see the story of his family's history unfold. Following his father's death he experiences an identity crisis that throws his life into disarray – he is torn between the cosmopolitan London life he's built with his white fiancée Freya, and a sudden urge to maintain a link to his family and culture. Discovering that his mother's sister, the aunt he had always been told was dead, is actually still alive, he sets out to find her.
Sathnam Sanghera's entertaining story is a "remix" of Arnold Bennett's classic novel The Old Wives' Tale (the story of a Staffordshire family's draper's shop) from which he "shoplifted characters and elements of the plot" – just one of the many example of the playful wit that infuses the novel. Each of the chapters, for example, is named after an appropriately titled magazine or newspaper, from Hairdressers' Journal, through Bunty and Indian Observer, to Black Country Bugle.
But behind the humour and the (albeit sometimes a little overly sensational) plot twists, is an important novel that explores an often overlooked part of this country's history. Having cut his story-telling teeth with his autobiographical first book, The Boy With The Topknot: A Memoir Of Love, Secrets And Lies in Wolverhampton, his account of discovering that his father had been secretly suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for many years, in Marriage Material Sanghera sets family secrets up against a broader political context, tracing the links between the Conservative MP Enoch Powell's 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, made at a time when Wolverhampton was "enjoying five minutes of fame as Britain's equivalent of Harlem", and the more recent discussions of race that resurfaced around the 2011 riots.
That the story of the Victorian mercantile class told in Bennett's novel is so easily transposed onto the community Sanghera grew up in nearly a century later is absolutely fascinating, and by recognizing and exploiting this with excellent effect, he examines the nationwide story of British immigration through the prism of the Punjabi Sikh experience.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling