CategoryBasil Priya

Sunday Salon: Ten Love Stories

I’ve been reading Marry Me, Dan Rhodes’s new collection of flash fiction on the theme of marriage. This being Rhodes, all is not exactly sweetness and light: in many of these stories, a male narrator is treated shabbily by his female partner – or occasionally he’s the one behaving shabbily himself – in absurd and darkly amusing ways.

‘Is there someone else?’ asks one man as his wife leaves him. ‘No,’ she replies, ‘there isn’t. But I would really, really like there to be’. Another woman informs her husband that he’ll have to leave, then produces a catalogue and sells him pots and pans for his new home (‘I would give you a discount because I know you, but it’s early days and I’m sure you’ll understand that I’ve got to keep a firm grip on my finances now I’m a single gal’). And so on, and so on, with these wonderfully barbed and pithy lines.

But, just occasionally. there are touches of real romance, as with the couple who put the lump of charcoal he gave her in lieu of a diamond under their mattress in the hope that pressure may transform it. The result: ‘it never looks any different. I think we would be a bit disappointed if it ever did.’ Moments like this bring light to the book, which ends up being quite sweet, in its own deliciously sour way.

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As it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, I decided to go back through my blog archives and see how many love stories I’ve reviewed over the years. My instinct was that it wouldn’t be that many, but (allowing for my subjective interpretation), I’ve come up with a list of nine more books to add to the one above, which is more than I expected. Here they are – but I’m not necessarily promising happy endings…

Viola di Grado, 70% Acrylic 30% Wool (reviewed Jan 2013)

A girl struggling to move on from her father’s death may have found a way forward when she meets a local boy who teaches her Chinese – if she can let herself move forward, that is. I really enjoyed this book, but it might as much an anti-love story as a love story.

Evan Mandery, Q: a Love Story (reviewed Sept 2012)

This must be a love story, because it says so in the title, right? Well, maybe not, as its protagonist receives repeated visits from his future self, trying to persuade him to call off his relationships. But the ending is actually rather affecting.

Alice Zeniter, Take This Man (reviewed May 2012)

A fine portrait of complex circumstances, as a young French-Algerian woman prepares to marry her Malian childhood friend in a bit to prevent his deportation. Not so much a tale of ‘will they?won’t they?’ as ‘should they? shouldn’t they?’.

Henry Green, Loving (reviewed Jan 2012)

A tale of love and contested space in a wartime country house. It begins and ends with the words of a fairytale, but that kind of happiness is a long way from being guaranteed.

Robert Shearman, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (reviewed Aug 2011)

An excellent set of stories examining love in its various manifestations.

Alison MacLeod, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (reviewed July 2011)

Another fine set of stories about love.

Daniel Glattauer, Love Virtually (reviewed Feb 2011)

A novel told through two people’s emails; their correspondence becomes a form of courtship dance. Will they or won’t they? I don’t know without reading the sequel.

Priya Basil, The Obscure Logic of the Heart (reviewed June 2010)

A non-religious boy from a wealthy Kenyan Sikh family and a girl from a devout Birmingham Muslim family fall in love – and the complexities of their situation are very nicely delineated in the book.

Ronan O’Brien, Confessions of a Fallen Angel (reviewed Aug 2009)

The story of a young man who has apparently prophetic dreams of people’s deaths. I include it here for its wonderful portrait of falling in love twice, in two different ways – the dizzy rush of first love, and a slower flowering of affection later on in life.

Priya Basil, The Obscure Logic of the Heart (2010)

They meet at university in London: Anil Mayur is the non-religious son of a wealthy Sikh family from Kenya; his ambition is to be an architect, rather than to take over his father’s business empire. Lina Merali is the daughter of a devout Muslim family from Birmingham, and interested in humanitarian issues. Whatever their differences, these two fall in love; they try their best to keep it a secret, but that can’t last – and life gets only more difficult as the years go by.

What makes Priya Basil’s second novel so interesting is the complexity of the scenario it presents. One can imagine this kind of story being treated rather simplistically (as, for example, a tale of the heroic lovers striving to overcome all the obstacles life places in their way), but Basil doesn’t do that – all her characters face difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. Both sets of parents would disapprove of Anil’s and Lina’s relationship, but the two protagonists have difficulties of their own to work through as well – Lina remains torn between Anil on the one hand, and her family and faith on the other; whilst Anil can sometimes be as controlling as he accuses Lina’s parents of being.

The familial situations are also presented in a nuanced fashion. In the case of Lina’s parents, for example, her mother, Iman, takes the sterner view of her daughter’s relationship, but not without reason; Iman found true love and happiness through time and staying true to her values, values to which she wants Lina to live up. Shareef, Lina’s father, is in a more complicated position, because he was in a relationship (which he ended) with a non-Muslim woman before he met Iman, so he recognises the situation in which Lina finds herself, and is more inclined to tread carefully. There’s nicely rounded characterisation like this all the way through The Obscure Logic of the Heart.

Adding a further layer to the novel is the way that events in its wider world interact with and reflect the personal stories of the protagonists. Time and again, a wish to shape the world, to change it for the better, comes up against a harsh reality. Lina can quote the statistics about political corruption, but is still unprepared for an encounter with it. She gets work with the UN, but finds colleagues unable to help everyone they would like, because they simply lack the resources. In a sincere spirit of education, a tour guide in the UN building asks her party, ‘Do you know what an anti-personnel landmine is and how much one costs?’, only for a girl to reply, ‘It can cost you your life.’ (229) The problems of the world, Basil suggests, can be as intractable as those of the heart.

In all this, I haven’t mentioned that Basil’s novel is a good read purely in terms of its plot, as she manages several times to wrong-foot the reader over what will happen (or has happened). Yet there’s so much more here besides, and it all makes The Obscure Logic of the Heart very satisfying to read.

Elsewhere
Priya Basil’s website

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