REVIEW: Monsoon Wedding Fever by Shoma Narayanan
Dear Mrs Narayanan,
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first offerings from Harlequin Indian writers and was psyched when Jane told Sunita and me that she had a copy of your first book “Monsoon Wedding Fever.” But just to support the effort, I bought my own copy when it became available at Harlequin.com last month. Overall, I’m glad I read it though the review will probably sound otherwise.
Riya Kumar and Dhruv Malhotra had a budding romance twelve years ago in college but suddenly Dhruv pulled back and cut things off. Heartbroken then, Riya has not sat on a shelf all these years though she’s never quite found a man to match him despite several interested suitors and marriage offers. Now he’s back in her life since his cousin, who’s worked and roomed with Riya for a year, is getting married. Unaware of their past, Gaurav forgot to mention to Riya that Dhruv would be staying with them and it’s only when she trips over him on her way in from a night out that Riya discovers Dhruv will be back in her life – even if only for a few days.
Initially sure she can handle being close again to Dhruv, Riya soon realizes that he’s far more tempting than she wants to admit. Meanwhile Dhruv, who is sure he doesn’t believe in marrying for love after living with the example of his feuding parents all his life, is determined to catch up with the wonderful creature Riya has become. They might try to fight their attraction for each other but ultimately, they know it’s impossible. Still, with Riya set on marrying only a man who will love her unconditionally and Dhruv certain that he can’t be this man, is there any hope for their future together?
I enjoy the Harlequin Romance line because often the stories are set outside the US and the main characters, though sometimes well off or even wealthy, are usually fairly low key about social status. The detail of the setting of the book – mainly in Mumbai and Kolkata – plus the emphasis on Indian characters is all I could want plus a bag of crisps. I won’t lie and say I completely grasp all the different social, regional and marital customs going on here but I loved the hell out of reading about them, adding to my understanding and bookmarking tons of stuff I want to investigate and dig into online. This is why I seek out books centered on cultures and countries different than my own. I appreciate that you don’t “dumb it down” and do the dreaded repeating in English what a character just said in another language or bring the action to a ear screeching halt while you info dump. Instead the general gist is enough to fill in the blanks for those of us just learning, keep the story moving and add to the richness and texture of what you’re conveying to us. Well done.
What doesn’t work as well for me is the romance. Riya and Dhruv have a past which zooms them past awkward intros and straight into Romance Issues Destined to Keep Them Apart. Riya doesn’t want to go through any more heartache so is set on keeping her distance from Dhruv. Then doesn’t. Dhruv has told his parents that he’s agreeable to making an arranged marriage so wants to keep keep his distance from and hurting Riya. Then doesn’t. Resolutions are made and broken – often on the same page and definitely within the same scene. She won’t give in. Then does. He won’t seek her out. Then does. She wants a man who’ll be devoted to her while he doesn’t believe in love. It can never be, we must keep our distance but we just can’t. Repeat for most of the book. My eyes were starting to hurt from rolling so much due to the number of times both of them decide to stay far, far away from each other only to fall into each other’s arms and be kissing one paragraph later. Let’s just say the romance isn’t why I kept on reading the story.
It’s too bad that I found myself getting annoyed with the “we won’t touch” declarations that – of course – are immediately broken because their feelings are just so strong. Rinse, repeat. So much of the romance part of the book kept falling into Ye Olde Standard character actions and motivations. It was very disappointing. The background stuff here is the bomb and I like how it adds nuances and layers to the story which would be difficult to get otherwise. I am excited that Harlequin is expanding into this new arena and will keep my eyes open for more offerings from Indian authors. C