Kinda yikes. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev was a confusing read, for me. Sure I was actually confused sometimes (I’ll get to that in a sec), but what I mean is that I both enjoyed it and disliked it simultaneously, all the way through. Much like the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy, but only partially making up for it at the end. I mean, there are things about this book that are just so bad. It is long-winded and repetitive. The main relationship fizzles. Darcy is, sorry, but a real jerk despite all the little-violin music in his tragic past and his determination to take care of his little sister. And Trisha—the Elizabeth Bennet (except the roles are largely reversed in this retelling)—is inconsistent. Actually, many of the characters are inconsistent and I tired of Dev telling me that Darcy and Trisha and Ashna were one thing when they were acting in no such way. It’s like Dev didn’t even understand or know her own main characters (or she was trying to make them more like the Pride and Prejudice versions but they wouldn’t behave). I also was consistently annoyed by her taking on genius characters and then getting it all wrong. I thought the food world created here seemed inauthentic and I’m guessing if I knew more about some of these other things (because I had suspicions many times) I would also find these other genius things (neuroscience, visual art, extreme wealth, politics, Indian royalty) inauthentic. Why do writers insist on telling the stories of prodigies and extremes, so often? It just sets the reader up for narrowing their eyes at the page if they know anything about the area in which the genius or extremes lay.
But, at the same time, I thought this book wasn’t even genre fiction, at all. It read more to me like, if not literary fiction, than upscale fiction. Sure it included romance, but the depth of the character exploration, the movement of narration through time, and the complexity of the plot-weaving made me feel like I was reading the next pop fiction offering, not a romance/retelling, and I was enjoying the story itself. (By the way, this is a very loose adaptation, so not really much of a “retelling” at all. A couple of the characters have the names and there is more of story arc similarities than Dev wants to claim, but it’s a long way from the original to this version.) All that to say that there is something about this book that sells itself as engaging, interesting… I wanted to keep reading it and was sometimes even drawn into the scenes or the overall story or even the characters. And I was basically satisfied at the ending, though I looked back and thought Can I be so satisfied knowing what I know about the way these characters behaved? Perhaps it just needed more rigorous editing, like one might hope for an upscale book.
So there I would be all interested, but then I shot back out again when Dev circled around the same things over and over, said something that I literally couldn’t figure out (what does that mean?), tell me one thing while showing me another, get lost in Darcy’s mean-spirited self-talk, or make some other (sometimes snicker-inducing) literary blunder. And this would happen on just about every page. I mean, truffle oil on raw fennel?! And how many people (metaphorically) orgasm while eating great food? Not that many people can even appreciate great food. And seriously. It was like 100 scenes too long. Sometimes I sat there thinking, “I get it already! Move on instead of beating me over the head with it!” Readers are not that slow-witted. They need quick-mention reminders, not complete retellings of themes and character traits, etc. Then as I neared the end, I was like “yeah!” when I read some of the big-moment, wisdom speeches while others made we want to gag myself.
Now you want to know what the book is even about? Trisha Raje is the middle child of a family at the heart of an Indian dynasty that has relocated to San Francisco and is busy creating a new kind of American dynasty with brother Yash and his gubernatorial campaign in the center. Trisha is a prodigious neurosurgeon, but also the family outcast who can never live down a mysterious thing she did in her college past. Her run-in (literally) with the also-prodigious chef (Darcy “DJ”) at a Yash fundraiser accidentally puts her in a personality feud (or misunderstanding) with the brother of her patient, Emma. Trisha has spent a decade of hard work developing the method that will save Emma’s life, but it will take DJ and Trisha getting along to convince Emma to want to live. But with Julia Whickham back in town, the whole Raje family could come toppling down, using DJ and Emma as pawns in her cruel game.
Kinda horrible. But I didn’t mind reading it. If it had been a bit shorter, I might have even enjoyed it more. If it had been edited through a few more rigorous drafts, I might have enjoyed it, period.
“Not everyone who fights you is your enemy” (p260).
“Manners aren’t about appearance at all, she had loved to say, they are about kindness” (p279).
“And since actions always bear fruit, you were better off focusing your energy on your actions, rather than worrying about the results you wanted to produce” (p299).
“Honesty, I now realize, only has value when it goes with fairness” (p318).
“His definition of love is pushing us to meet our potential. Unconditional love is an oxymoron to Ma and HRH” (p384).
“Your life is never just yours, love. My life is ted to yours because I love you” (p387).
“And if anyone ever felt that way about me, I’d be brave enough to believe it …. You told me that sometimes you have to be brave and put yourself out there? You also have to be brave to accept what you have, even if you’re terrified of losing it” (p414).
“I didn’t tell you then, but I’ll tell you now. The thing about human beings is that they heal” (p426).
“’Don’t be a damn tourist,’ Vansh had said. ‘Don’t try to see Africa. No one can “see” Africa in ten days. Just stay put and do your work and be’” (p449).
“I know I should tell you the good things more. Sometimes when I try to remember your childhoods, only all the mistakes I ever made come back” (p454).