I made the mistake of starting Sonya Lalli’s The Matchmaker’s List after dinner on a weeknight. I’d planned to reading a few of chapters before bed, then saving the rest for another day. Instead, I found myself so completely engrossed in the book that I was still reading past midnight and had to force myself to stop just so I could get enough sleep before work the next day.
The Matchmaker’s List is such a compelling story, and so beautifully told. I was hooked by the characters and their lives. Nani in particular is a star, and I want so much for this to be turned into a Netflix movie, if only so I could see Nani brought to life on screen.
The titular list is one that Nani creates for her granddaughter Raina, who is still single at 29, earning their family censure from the rest of their close-knit Indian-immigrant community. Determined to have Raina married by 30, Nani sets her up on a series of blind dates, but doesn’t realize that Raina still secretly holds a torch for an ex-boyfriend. When Raina tells a lie to get her grandmother off her case, the lie unexpectedly blows up much larger than Raina anticipates, with far-reaching consequences for Raina’s family and friends.
From the cover and the blurb, I had expected a Bridget Jones Diary-type romantic comedy, filled with hilariously horrific blind dates and an unexpected one-true-love who will be part of Raina’s happily ever after. There is a love story, and bits of red herring romances, but the book is really more women’s fiction than romance. The love story is almost a subplot, as the story is much more about Raina struggling to balance her grandmother’s traditions and expectations with her own more modern and more North American desires.
I love Lalli’s writing, and the characters she has created. The novel has such a rich and complex cast of characters that we can understand and sympathize with them even when we see how some of their decisions hurt others. Raina in particular makes a number of questionable decisions throughout the story, and because Lalli’s characterization is so rich, I almost found my loyalties divided in my response. For example, with the lie Raina tells Nani, each time the lie gets bigger and more out of control, I felt an almost physical pain at the thought of how hurt Nani would be when she inevitably learns the truth, and yet I can also understand Raina’s choices and sympathize with how she herself is trapped in a spiral of her own making.
And even with the judgemental mother of Raina’s best friend, I can understand where she and the other, more traditional members of Raina’s community are coming from. Inspite of the effect on Raina and her friends, I can also understand these older adults’ desire to maintain traditions from their own childhoods and how scary and somewhat hurtful it must feel to have their children show considerably less interest in these traditions. There’s a beautiful moment at the wedding of Raina’s best friend that illustrates how this struggle between generations can reach a compromise, and possibly begin to create new traditions out of the old.
I especially love the subplot about Raina’s mother rebelling against Nani’s strict rules, then causing shame for the family by being a single parent, then by leaving her child to be raised by grandparents. This resulted in their family’s social standing being diminished in their community, and I love how this subplot helps explain why Nani is so desperate to have Raina married by 30, and conversely why Raina is so reluctant to tell her grandmother about her true feelings. I also love how, as this subplot develops, we gradually realize that the story isn’t quite as simple as we may have once thought, and that no matter how lovable Nani is as a character, she may be just as culpable as her daughter in causing the rift.
In brief, I absolutely loved The Matchmaker’s List. It’ll definitely resonate with many second- and third-generation Canadian or American women who are trying to define their own identity while continuing to respect the traditions of their parents and grandparents. And it’s a wonderful, heartwarming story of love and family as well, and sure to keep many readers up past their bedtime and, like me, having to struggle to break away from Raina and Nani’s world.
Raina’s (Not So) Romantic Tour of Toronto
Check out some of the Toronto neighbourhoods featured in this book!
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.