Shades of grey

Black humour turns grotesque acts of behaviour into farce, but comedy can also be found in unrelenting gloom, as Sathnam Sanghera’s Marriage Material showed me.

But I must confess it took me a while to find the comedy in this first novel (Sanghera is the author of another book called The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton). Marriage Material is about Arjan Banga, a young British-Asian man who gives up his London job as a graphic designer to help his widowed mother run his parents’ corner shop in provincial Wolverhampton, UK.

By coming back home, Arjan not only returns to the claustrophobic, narrow-minded world of his childhood and youth as the only child of a British-Asian shopkeeper, but also finds himself developing the same ghetto mentality that had made him desperate to leave in the first place. He even breaks up with his fiancée Freya because he sees nothing but culture clashes in an association of brown and white.

Marriage Material: By Sathnam Sanghera, Random House India, 352 pages, Rs299
Marriage Material: By Sathnam Sanghera, Random House India, 352 pages, Rs299

The humour is forced at the beginning, but halfway along the novel, the laughs do come quite naturally.

What is striking about Marriage Material is its honesty. There are many books on the Indian immigrant experience, almost all to do with cultural confusion and conflict, and this is a novel that revisits that experience with small realistic details.

There’s much not to like in this book. The prose is awkward in the beginning, but get past the first 160-odd pages, and you’ll find there’s also much to enjoy in it. Will you gush about it after you’ve finished it? Unlikely. But will the details stay at the back of your mind for a long time? Chances are, yes.