Monday, 3 April 2017
#Review #TheOtherHalfofHappiness #SofiaKhan #AyishaMalik
Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way . . .
Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.
When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can't hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.
A book to make you smile, laugh and cry, this is the story of a mixed-race marriage and a mixed-up family, for anyone who's ever struggled to balance their pride with their principles, or stuck around to try to mend a broken heart.
I was absolutely thrilled to receive a review copy of this novel as I have been eagerly anticipating it's arrival since finishing the last page of Ayisha Malik's first book a year ago. This novel is a continuation of Sofia's story. It is possible to enjoy as a stand alone, but probably makes more sense to read Sofia Khan is not Obliged first as this story continues to share with us the ups and downs and ins and outs of the relationship between Sofia and Conall who are now married.
I'm also absolutely thrilled that Malik decided to continue Sofia's story. Sofia is a great character and I really wanted to find out what would happen to her now she was married to her (hot) Irish next door neighbour! She is a lively, witty character and it was lovely to be back in her company, even if she still isn't sharing those chocolate digestives and KitKats. No doubt Malik felt under pressure to deliver an equally entertaining, light-hearted-yet-not-without-serious-issues novel, but deliver it she did. There is absolutely nothing disappointing about this book. I loved it.
In fact, as the character Sakib says, "I think it's better than the dating book.....It's more insightful - [there's] more depth." I totally agree. I think Malik is a great writer because her book feels like a conversation with a friend; it is honest, down to earth, sometimes raw, sometimes emotional and always humorous. But on top of that, her real skill is that although this is relatively lighthearted novel about marriage, families and relationships, it is actually layered with insightful, intelligent observations about people and society. Don't underestimate Malik. She is obviously fiercely intelligent and a great people watcher.
The Other Half of Happiness is over 430 pages long and I was very grateful for this. I would have read on. I was in no hurry to leave. I am invested in Sofia and her family however dysfunctional they may be and however claustrophobic it sometimes feels to Sofia, I relished the fact it was quite a long novel. Malik's writing is so accessible, fluent and funny that you really have no idea how many pages or how long you have been reading for.
The book is written as Sofia's diary; clearly organised into 12 months following her as she researches her "Muslim Marriage Book" and lives through the 12 months of her marriage with Conall. This in itself makes it a very immediate and informal story. It is also very easy for the reader to form a relationship with Sofia. Alongside that we have text messages, emails and "notes for book" which often come as a kind of postscript. Even though they are in italics, they are never to be skimmed over or their poignancy underestimated. All these techniques make it a very contemporary novel and a hugely engaging read.
So The Other Half Of Happiness is 'part 2' of Sofia's relationship guide - the marriage bit. She's been commissioned by her boss to tell all about 'Muslim Marriages'. This should be the happy ever after bit. It should be the easy bit. But it isn't that straight forward. For Conall and Sofia, marriage seems to have forgotten its promise of a happy ending and in fact brought along a whole host of issues that neither of them had thought they would be facing.
Note for book: Whatever you do- if writing a guide to marriage, don't end up penning your very own marital misery memoir.
Conall and Sofia's relationship is complex. At first what seems a bit of miscommunication, a slight drifting, a misconception that both are happy with their career choices - and a bit of jealousy - becomes something more tangled. The small cracks get bigger and then there are some revelations which threaten to destroy everything for them. I think it's a brave story and a brave angle for Malik to take; a newly wed couple who are clearly very fond of each other but run into difficulties very early on in their relationship. Sofia may appear a little chaotic at times but she is also strong and committed to her beliefs and values. She is a refreshing voice and quite a unique one. I liked this story because it is realistic, honest and at times very sad.
I was also pleased to rejoin Sofia's mother. She is a great creation. She is so easy to visualise and it is so easy to hear her voice. Any scenes with her guarantee a raised eyebrow or smile from the reader - although again, not a character to underestimate either. Malik evokes the mother / daughter relationship effortlessly and is able to convey the religious and cultural setting with a deft hand. Although many of the references and conversations will not be unfamiliar to any daughter!
"'We can only ask our children to give us happiness,' [mum] said, ' We can't expect it.'
Mum the martyr was so much worse than mum the despot."
Ayisha Malik is a Muslim and Sofia Khan is a Muslim. This book is about young Muslim women. As with Sofia Khan is not Obliged, The Other Half of Happiness gently challenges a few assumptions, it draws attention to a few generalisations but it is all done with a gentle touch. It is not educative or moralising, it's observational and authentic. And Kelly Bright's interview is so cleverly reported that despite the issues underlying the questions she asks, the focus remains the focus of the book - love and happiness. The Other Half of Happiness is a romantic comedy at heart (excuse the pun!). It's a book about realistic expectations, confronting truths and then finding happiness through coming to terms with what happiness means to you.
"Don't think about what you've lost. Think of the things you still have. And what, if you look for it, you might find."
Malik's first novel was compared to Bridget Jones and I'm sure this second novel will be too. There is same feel, tone of voice and similarity in dynamics between parents, friends and partners that we see in Bridget Jones. There are similarities in the style of the novel and the structure of the chapters. Perhaps there is a similarity in the protagonists' journeys. Whatever it is, I don't think this comparison is a bad thing for Malik at all - I think it shows that she has written a book that is going to be universally relevant and universally loved.
So boil the kettle, shut the door, curl up on the bed and break open that packed of chocolate digestives. Treat yourself to The Other Half of Happiness. You'll love it.
Oh, and if you are in still in any doubt of Sofia's wisdom, how's this........
"Count every lucky star you have- they will come in the shape of the friends you love."
If you like commercial women's fiction, if you like fiction about families, relationships and marriage you will enjoy this book. If you like a book which makes you laugh, cry and gain you unwanted attention on the train when you find yourself snorting into your coffee and spitting your biscuit on a fellow commuter, then you must read this book.
If you like a book which is very well written, well structured, well paced and actually digs a bit deeper - a book which makes you think about religion, women and society a bit more, then this is definitely a must read. Ayisha Malik is a funny, intelligent and insightful writer. I really hope that even if this is the end of Sofia Khan's adventure into writing books, it is by no means Malik's.
The Other Half of Happiness is published by Bonnier Zaffre on April 6th 2017.
To read my review of Sofia Khan is not Obliged click here
To read Bibliomaniac's Book Club guide to Sofia Khan is not Obliged click here
Ayisha is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering and being a publicist. Now, when she isn’t searching for a jar of Nutella in her cupboards, she divides her time between writing and being managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.
Ayisha is one of WH Smith's Fresh Talent picks, Winter 2016.
For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or check out my website www.bibliomaniacuk.co.uk