Review

THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPINESS|| Ayisha Malik

Set in two cities, London and Pakistan, this book follows the life of quirky-author Sofia Khan who has just gotten married to her London-neighbour, Conall,  after a very brief courtship.

At first glance that seems pretty simplistic for a love story. However Malik adds humour, wit and other heavy elements when she reveals the dynamics of this couple. Khan is an orthordox Muslim with deep London roots and Conall is an Irish man in search of forgiveness. She is a virgin before she gets married, in keeping with her religion. After a bout of failed dates with Muslim men she writes them off as love prospects. However in order to marry the Irish man, he has to convert to Islam, which he gladly does for reasons beyond just marriage.

The unlikelihood of her union with Conall; the traditional Muslim aspect of Khan and her family gives the read a Bollywood – comedy feel.

Themes around Muslim women’s independence, interracial marriages, modern day challenges on religion, the proverbial biological clock, the pressure women feel to be married by a certain age, the need to remain individuals even in the ultimate union of marriage, religion, secrets, homosexuality, infidelity, and heartbreak are all subjects Malik explores with such skill it leaves us laughing at ourselves.

Family and friendship also play a major part in this unconventional love story. One can’t help but ask: “If I were Khan what decisions would I make”?

The diary-entry style of the structure however proved a hindrance when initially getting into the book, but as one reads on it becomes bearable.

Divorce, remarriage, widowhood and the dynamics of falling in and out of love are woven into this book on both the Irish and Pakistani sides of the story. How well do we know the people we end up marrying? What are we willing to forgive? What is our tolerance for mistakes in relationships? What price do we place on truth? What is it that makes our parent’s generation endure loveless or difficult relationships or marriages while millennials  find it difficult to endure even the slightest glitch in the dream to happily ever after?

Malik is a great scene setter, it is easy to transport yourself to the world she creates. Her characters are well developed, diverse and work really well together in the telling of this story. At the end of it all, the 21st century woman is left evaluating their own life by answering one telling question: what would you not do for love?

For a while after reading the book I felt a little let down by the ending because it does not have a typical romance ending. I laughed a lot and cried just a little while reading the book and I couldn’t help but desire a stellar ending where my heart would be ripped out of my chest. When that didn’t happen I found myself double checking if there were any missing pages from the book. However a few days later I got it. This has to be the most realistic love story I’ve ever read. With that in mind, the ending makes sense and I slowly began to appreciate it.

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