REVIEW: Secrets and Saris by Shoma Narayanan
“A secret that could cause scandal!
Jilted at the altar, Shefali Khanna should be humiliated. Instead she takes the opportunity to start again. Top of the priority list: do not tumble headfirst into another relationship!
But even moving from the city to the country can’t keep Shefali out of trouble–especially when she catches the eye of local celeb Neil Mitra! There is no way she can risk a scandal already! He might be gorgeous, but he’s totally off-limits…right?”
Dear Ms. Narayanan.
My goodness doesn’t this blurb have a lot of exclamation points? After reading and enjoying “Monsoon Wedding Fever” last year, I was excited to see another book of yours – this time in the Harlequin “KISS” line. I enjoyed your voice again, as I did in “Wedding,” and loved delving into life in contemporary India but though I could understand the confusion and hesitation both Neil and Shefali had about their feelings for each other, the numerous flip flops in their actions caused by their confusion didn’t leave me with a solid feeling about their future relationship.
There is no mistaking that these are Indian characters living in contemporary India. Details of their daily lives are smoothly worked into the story without tedious explanation to interrupt the flow of the scene. This gives a nice feel for the setting and people. We can see how conservative the smaller city is that Shafali is now living in compared to Delhi and how being known to have slept with Neil would damage her reputation as the manager of a pre-school. I could also grasp how unusual it was for Neil to be a single, divorced parent with custody of his daughter. The differences in languages and in religious observation of the same holiday show both the vastness and nuances of India.
There is a casual acceptance of arranged marriages which agrees with what I read a while ago in a news story. In it, a young Indian woman said she didn’t waste time trying to find Mr. Right – that was her parent’s job. Shefali grew up expecting her parents and aunties to find her someone suitable and acceptable to marry. As such, it’s not unusual in this social class and setting for her to still be a virgin but at least she’s not hung up about it or screeching for Neil to marry her once she’s not anymore.
Shefali might not have what people consider a high powered executive job but she’s no dummy either. I loved the way she coolly sold her engagement ring and got the best price possible. She also didn’t fall apart when Pranav was a no-show, deciding to leave Delhi and not stay under her parent’s thumbs anymore. Moving away was also a means for her to escape the pointing fingers and pity. She enjoys the smoking sex she and Neil have but isn’t trying to hang onto him like a life preserver after the ship has gone down. When she realizes that she just isn’t into something this casual she has little hesitation about cutting her losses, especially with the way Neil is bungling their relationship.
Neil’s first marriage and its aftermath aren’t typical which is shown in how Shefali reacts with shock to its telling. Neil and his first wife were childhood friends who started dating at an astonishingly young age for India, were in a sexual relationship and got caught by an unintended pregnancy which ended up with Neil pushing the reluctant mother of his child to marry him. When the marriage ended, Neil bucked the expectations of his family in order to raise Nina by himself. With this in his background, I wasn’t surprised that he has little interest in marrying again.
With both hero and heroine being reluctant to jump into anything permanent but society demanding it due to Shefali’s job and the small town mentality, the shift into first an engagement and then a marriage of convenience seems like a plausible plot twist. What annoyed me was the quicksilver shifts from then on. One minute Shefali is complaining that her reputation can’t take another broken engagement and then she wants to break it. Neil states that he doesn’t want any more children and then changes his mind but only to make Shefali happy. Back and forth and back and forth. It’s as if now that you’ve gotten them together, you’ve run out of conflict.
It’s not that I don’t understand the way these characters think and what is motivating them but for both of them to whiplash back and forth gets tiresome. When they both announce their undying love for each other, I’m afraid I’m still holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. The conflicts here are plausible and there’s certainly enough to go around but the resolution just doesn’t quite convince me in the end. B-
Nice review! Shefali sounds like an appealing heroine and the book was sounding great until the relationship whiplash in the later sections. I’m still tempted to get this, but I have Monsoon Wedding Fever and haven’t read it yet. Which of Ms. Narayanan’s books did you like best?
@Janine: I’d have to say this one. The first half is just so good.
Great review, Jayne! This one is still in my TBR but I’m definitely intrigued. The first book was good not great and had the same kinds of problems, i.e., the conflict wasn’t convincing but the atmosphere and setting were good. This sounds even better on that front.
@Sunita: I definitely think that overall this book is better and am looking forward to what she writes next.
@Jayne: Okay, you sold me on it. I purchased a copy since (A) it sounds good and (B) I want to support the publisher and the author for taking the chance on the India setting and South Asian protagonists.
Very good review. The plot of the book was very limited, all conflicts and problems seemed forced and easily resolved if the people involved would just use common sense. But I must agree that the setting was very realistic and true to how things really are here in India. The differences between the Punjabi heroine and the Bengali hero were also very accurately portrayed. Its a good book to read if you want a real picture of how things actually are in Indian upper-middle class society.