Author: Itisha Peerbhoy
Publisher: Penguin Books
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First things first- You should know that this review is written by a literary snob. Worse, it’s written by the kind of snob who is aware that she is a snob and tries hard not to give herself points for knowing it (Self-awarenessception will be the death of me.) Half Love Half Arranged is the kind of title I usually snootily thumb my nose at so what prompted me to pick it up this time? Why, thank you for asking, wonderfully patient hypothetical-reader! I had an attack of conscience when I flipped past the books I had read over the past few months and nary could an Indian name be found among them. So, in an attempt to be better informed about my cultural zeitgeist, I took one for the team (WILDCATS!)
The book, the debut novel of Itisha Peerbhoy, is the story of Rhea Kanwar, who is “thirty, unmarried and tending to fat.” Emotionally manipulated by her family into mounting a search for a bridegroom, Rhea then embarks on a journey full of romantic misadventures. She meets three prospective candidates who each turn out to be problematic in some ways. Meanwhile, in the background, lurks Arf, the edgy male best friend who just might want to be more.
In a book like this-told from the perspective of one character and dealing with her heartbreaks and joys- it is very important to be invested in the character. For me, this is where the book goes wrong. Rhea Kanwar is a young woman in the current milieu, working in the capital of the country and there is not a single thing about her that is interesting. Not only is she extremely apathetic about her current job, she has absolutely no interest in even thinking of a vocation she might be passionate about. There are no engaging hobbies or quirks or preferences that might clue us into the kind of a person she is when taken out of the matrimonial market. The book had an excellent opportunity to satirize our regressive, stone-age ideas of marriage and femininity but it lets it slide by to capitalize on ready-made tropes (the loud Punjabi mother, the vacuous Delhi socialite). Also, hyperbole as a comedic device loses its appeal quickly when overused.
Nevertheless, Half Love Half Arranged is a quick read that delivers some laughs and a surprising conclusion.