I was really intrigued to read this book when Penguin Random House sent me an email about it and asked if I’d like to be part of the Blog Tour. The Matchmaker’s List is a novel by a Canadian author, and the events in the book happen in well known places around Toronto, which I thought was really cool.
I also felt drawn in by the plot and ideas of the story. Raina is a single woman approaching her 30th birthday, which she has already agreed will be the age she allows her Nani, the grandmother who raised her, to arrange a match for her. Part of a tight knit Indian community, Raina feels the pressure to marry and settle down, but also feels rebellious against some of the stricter rules and expectations of her upbringing. Why should marriage be a more important achievement than her career? And is she more than a little bit jealous of her best friend’s love match?
On the surface, this book feels vibrant and quite funny. The dates that her grandmother sets up for her don’t really go smoothly, and sometimes that’s funny. I really liked the way that all the characters and their world felt real and well defined. The author evoked them in my imagination really well, and I felt like the book was well-paced, not moving too quickly or revealing too much too soon, but also not slowing down either.
But there’s another layer too. Raina is not a simple girl in a rom-com plot. She’s actually quite damaged. Her mother is a strange figure in her life, a teen mother, she is an immature women who seems wholly self absorbed and largely absent. Not wanting to be a social outcast, Raina feels intense pressure to not be anything like her mother, and for that reason, she has her own home and a good career. Honestly, she was my least favourite character in the book, because I felt like shaking her and telling her to see a therapist sometimes.
Here’s the thing. Raina is still in love with her ex, several years later. He has always been clear that he doesn’t want a commitment from her. She is unable to let go, and it feels obsessive. She has never been with anyone else. During the course of this book, she goes on dates with men who speak to her really rudely, and she often thinks things and doesn’t say them, almost allowing the abuse. A guy accuses her of being desperate and tells her he’s not interested, but as soon as he calls her for another date, she agrees to go. She also gets so obsessed with her ex again that her work suffers, which feels like a very unhealthy thing. She’s thirty but her understanding of relationships is very immature. At the end, she tells a man she loves him after they’ve kissed once.
While I have to say that that was slightly annoying, Raina still feels like a real person. I know people who behave like her, and I do wonder if her lack of maturity is down to her strict upbringing or something like that. Either way, I really liked Sonya Lalli’s writing style and I found the world she created was so interesting. I loved reading a book set amongst a culture I know little about, and I liked the way that Raina has a foot in two world’s: she’s a Canadian girl, but also has a foot in the world of her cultural heritage. Lalli’s writing is bright and evocative, and this book is emotive and often funny. Having read this, I will be looking out for other books by this author in the future.