Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

UK retro book cover of The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Why yes, I did totally and utterly buy this because of the cover. Thank you for asking. Isn't it lovely though? All retro and funky. In my defence, I did actually read the blurb and decide the premise sounded interesting... but did I mention the cover?

Plot summary: Amina met George online. Within months she has left her home in Bangladesh and is living in George's house in the American suburbs. Theirs is a very twenty-first century union, forged from afar yet echoing the traditions of the arranged marriage.

But as Amina struggles to find her place in America, it becomes clear that neither she nor George have been entirely honest with each other. Both have brought to the marriage a secret - a vital, hidden part of themselves - which will reveal who they are and whether their future is together or an ocean apart. 

The very first page completely drew me in. It's written in the third person but with such a chatty, informal style that you're sucked completely into Amina's new life in the United States. Nell Freudenberger has clearly put a lot of effort into uncovering exactly what would perplex a newly arrived immigrant from Bangladesh as there are aspects that just wouldn't have occurred to me, like automatically being expected to look after the neighbour's children or your family-in-law refusing to understand why Amina won't eat pork. There's a large amount of stereotyping, I'm sure, but perhaps that's the entire point.

   George's mother was a good cook and always remembered to make something separate for Amina, if there was pork in any of the dishes.
   "Are you allergic?" Aunt Cathy had asked the first time this had happened, and George had explained that Muslims, like Jews, didn't eat pork.
   "Oh, I can see how it would be dirty over there. You wouldn't want to eat any meat, would you? But our pork is very clean. As clean as chicken - next time, you'll tell Eileen she doesn't have to bother."

It flashes back to Amina's life at home in Bangladesh fairly frequently and the (fictional) culture surprised me. Her parents were very encouraging (almost to the point of demanding) that Amina obtain an American husband, on the expectation that they would soon follow to the U.S. and live under the same roof as the newlyweds. It was... odd. Very mercenary and not a little presumptuous.

The blurb makes it sound a little like Gone Girl - the undiscovered secrets and hidden past etc. Unfortunately, The Newlyweds is a book in two halves and the first is far superior to the second. The beginning is full of hints and suspicions; the second reads like a generic 'other countries are very sad' book. Not great.


VAGUE SPOILERS BELOW.

Amina returns to Bangladesh (not really a spoiler, as the reason isn't what you think) and the entire novel changes completely. The author's notes tell me that Nell Freudenberger based the book on the life of a woman she met on an airplane once, which is possibly why the first half is so real and the second is so... not.   

It begins with Amina jumping to huge conclusions based on no evidence, which miraculously turn out to be right, which is annoying. Then there's a really, really long-winded trip to Bangladesh where Something Happens that makes absolutely no sense. A very 'Where did THAT come from!?' moment, one that's very dramatic and doesn't really fit with the tone of the book.

The additional love interest is also very odd, and presumably something else added to the real story of the woman from the airplane. It wasn't dealt with very feel, almost like it was shoved in there as a sub-plot without really spending the necessary time on it.


END OF VAGUE SPOILERS. 

There also wasn't an ending to speak of. The event that the whole book had been building up to just didn't happen. The story broke off suddenly and we never got to hear whether it was pulled off or not. It makes no sense! The only thing that got me through the drudgery of the Bangladesh story was knowing that eventually I'd get to go back to the interesting part. But I didn't. Which sucked.

I wish I could review the two halves of The Newlyweds separately. The beginning is engrossing, thought-provoking and generally brilliant but unfortunately it's very inconsistent and I lost interest. I am glad I read this and I will read her next work, but I struggled to resume reading every time I put it down.

Read Laura's review of The Newlyweds at Devouring Texts.

10 comments:

  1. YES to all of this! I really liked the first half, with its clash of cultures and the difficulties of being somewhere completely different to what you're used to etc etc, and then it all just kind of fell apart in the second half. I almost would have preferred a story where Amina's parents come to America halfway through and what THAT would be like. Just, ugh, annoying.

    That's still such a great cover though. Seriously.

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    1. EXACTLY. I kept thinking that they must get to America before long, but instead it was all... well, you know what it was. I just wasn't interested and I kind of felt like I'd been misled.

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  2. I would have bought this for the cover without reading the blurb (this explains why i ahve so many books).

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  3. I enjoyed this one much more than you, I think I was so engrossed by the first half that the second didn't bother me at all!

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  4. Obviously I agree on the cover (because I love how retro it looks) but if both you and Laura are telling me that I don't really need to bother, I'm inclined not to really. So that's one book in the world less that I feel as though I need to get to!

    I do get disappointed by books that are disappointing when you get to the end. I always feel as though I've been lured into enduring the tedium and that it's cheating me somehow. I'm on the flip side at the moment - I am assured that Villette is the best thing ever when it comes to Charlotte Bronte but I'm about a quarter of the way through and to be honest, I'm just finding it quite...*whispers* boring...I'm surviving on the promise of a more engaging second half...:|

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    1. I don't think I'd go so far as to say don't read it... just borrow it from the library or something instead of buying it, pretty though it is. To put it in context, I haven't actually decided whether to get rid of it or not.

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  5. I've been reading this for about a thousand years (like two months) and have issues picking it up so much. I like it so I don't know what it is about it but yeah. I'm sure i'll finish it eventually. I'm intrigued by all your vague spoilers now :-p

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  6. *that's about, not it is! Hate commenting from my phone!

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  7. Yes about the cover - I love the retro vibe! And the premise itself sounds interesting...

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  8. I like retro too but this just would not have made it for cover lust for ME. happy reading.

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