This novel is touted as a mix between “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” (which I have read) and “Crazy Rich Asians” (which I haven’t); I spotted it on Literary Potpourri’s upcoming NetGalley reads post and sought it out for myself. It was published in July and indeed I read it last month but I’m keeping my reading in front of my reviewing so I don’t have to scramble to write reviews during my work week. Note that this is also published under the title “The Rules of Arrangement” (thanks to Literary Potpourri for that info as well as the lead on the novel’s existence).

Anisha Bhatia – “What are we Doing About Zoya?”

(29 June 2021, NetGalley)

Zoya is a 26 year old woman living in Mumbai and, shockingly to her family, not yet married; she dresses unconventionally and is carrying a bit of weight (she’s shamed for this by various people, but it’s notable that she doesn’t lose weight in order to be happy and get the guy). She works in an ad agency (and she’s good at her job, organised and creative) for a rather alarming boss who wants everyone to call him by his first name, and has a good set of similarly unconventional friends around her – the one who gets married first starts to look increasingly troubled as the plot progresses.

Sheila Bua, Zoya’s mum’s oldest friend, is a marriage arranger and gets to work finding some boys – cue the usual excruciating family meetups. But Zoya remembers other layers of Aunty Sheila – an artist, a second mum to her after she loses a baby, someone who takes her for treats, as well as someone who pins aforementioned boss to the foyer wall and demands to know who his mother is. And the pressures on young men to get married are covered too: Zoya meets one chap who’s very happy with his boyfriend and stays friends with her on WhatsApp but is going through the marriage motions to please his parents. It’s also an interesting picture of well-off families with lots of conspicuous wealth on show.

When Zoya meets a guy who is sort of OK, they sort of agree to get married. But he’s a bit of an arse, and why do things go funny when he gets near one of her cousins? Are all engagements this argumentative? Meanwhile, we find out someone has been doing secret good turns for other people in the office … and Zoya has the opportunity of a lifetime, but it means turning down other opportunities.

There’s a lot to like in this fast-paced and funny novel, full of farce but with serious moments and commentary. It’s also quite racy for an India-based family / arranged marriage romcom tale; Zoya has a dope-smoking on/off lover and someone for whom this would be frowned upon has a pregnancy scare, which isn’t something you come across that often. But that’s fine, obviously, and probably gives a more accurate picture of life for young Indian people than some of the more smoothed-over stories. We get family stories and trendy restaurants; there’s one mis-step in the continuity which doesn’t matter massively but is a slight shame.

I’d certainly read more by this author. Thank you to Headline for making the book available to read on NetGalley in return for an honest review. It was published on 13 July. You can find out what Literary Potpourri thought of it here.