Another of my NetGalley books for June – I fear I’m not going to get all of these read by the end of Wednesday although I should at least manage to start “Windswept” or “I Belong Here”. It was always a big ask to read so many books this month, review ones and these and 20 Books of Summer books. I’ve enjoyed myself, anyway.

“The Mismatch” – Sara Jafari

(06 April 2021)

In a dual-narrative first novel, we meet Soraya, in 2014 Brighton and London, just finished university and trying to work out what to do next, and her mother, Neda, growing up in Iran then moving to the UK with her handsome and kind husband … who soon becomes very much less handsome and kind. But first, we meet Soraya’s older sister, Laleh, in 1999, and the beginning of a mystery and secret that will always threaten to burst the family’s view of itself.

I really liked all the details of life in Iran and life as an Iranian in the UK, first and second-generation. I also liked that Soraya’s living in my old neighbourhood of New Cross Gate, which you don’t often see in books! It was nice that Soraya had two best friends, gay, Black Oliver and Pakistani-origin Muslim Priya, both on her side and forthright, although Priya was only drawn in quite vaguely. I wasn’t quite so engaged by the central, mismatch, love story between Soraya and the (very) White, rugby playing lad, Magnus – I think mainly because it’s yet another Millennials in London story and although their struggles in life are real, it’s a bit similar to other stuff I’ve read. Also worth knowing: Soraya is a virgin and discovers the delights of (moving towards) sex with Magnus, however I just as much don’t want to read this between a cishet couple as I didn’t in the previous, even more diverse fiction book I read! So there’s that.

You can’t help but draw comparisons between the initial attraction and mismatch of Soraya and Magnus and her mum and dad. The family dynamic is very broken and you wonder if she will get to break the cycle. Certainly she and her remaining siblings (boy/girl twins) have different ways of dealing with their father and his problems. Brother Amir is nicely drawn with his complete lack of understanding of how his sisters’ lives are different from his in so many ways. There are some good points about micro-agressions and also context – Soraya gets called “exotic” twice and minds it more on one occasion, though I felt it was a red flag when used the less problematic time.

There are a couple of problems with the book I found: mainly Soraya’s drug-taking – do all young people in London now take drugs, even people with “Muslim guilt” who find it hard to get intimate with people? The word “mismatch” pops up a lot and that sometimes feels a little laboured. There’s also a plot point which is confusing, although I have mentioned this (it has been in the reviews on NG already) and hopefully that can be addressed. It’s a good portrayal of a group of people you don’t see often portrayed and also issues within that community. Being autofiction to an extent I think (the author edits a literary magazine, just as her heroine plans to) I will be interested to see what she writes next.

Oh, there are two cats and a dog in the novel and none come to harm, however in the Acknowledgements, we find the cats are in memory of the author’s late cats!

Thank you to Random House for making this available to me to read via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book was published on 24 June.