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Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapala

Wedding Season final jacket 200x300 Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapala

When I turned eighteen, my Italian grandmother proudly presented me with a truly hideous cutlery collection. For when you get married, she said. For the next seven years that cutlery set was trotted out every single time I visited. For when you get married, was the accompanying refrain each time. Needless to say, shes now delighted that that cutlery set can now finally be put to use (even if her response when she'first met my now-husband was, Oh. I expected you to be one of us.).

Marriage, however, it turns out, bring with it its own set of demands. I remember very little of our Chinese tea ceremony bar the fact that my husbands entire family somehow felt it was their duty to take control of my womb. (Grandson! When you going to have grandson? Already been one day, lah! Nine months from now one, ah?)

So lets just say that I identify just a wee bit with Shani, the protagonist of Su Dharmapalas The Wedding Season.'At 32, Shanis successful in her career, has a wonderful group of girlfriends, owns her own home, and gets about South Melbourne in a spiffy sports car. But never mind all of that: in the eyes of her mother (and the rest of the Melbourne Sri Lankan community), theres a terrible void in her life. A void that can only be filled by a man (any man will do), a wedding on a scale to rival your average Circus Oz show, and as many grandchildren as Shani is capable of giving birth to before menopause sets in. And perhaps a set of wedding cutlery, who knows.

Determined to maintain her social currency, with Shanis happiness an incidental concern, Shanis mother sets about playing the match-maker in the most cringeworthy of ways. What starts off as a gentle suggestion over a multi-course meal comprising all of Shanis favourite foods soon evolves into a dating challenge of epic proportions: Shanis mother has an internet connection, and isnt afraid to use it. And thanks to the affordances of GPS technology, internet match-making technology and the 21st century utter disregard for privacy, Shani finds herself being pounced upon by potential suitors wherever she goes. Note to self: always wear my wedding ring when going for a run around the Tan.

But fending off Melbournes least eligible bachelors isnt all that Shani has to deal with. Theres the sleazy coworker whos quite happy to take credit for Shanis hard work, the fact that Shanis McMansion is falling apart at the seams, and the pregnant best friend with the well-meaning mother whos a Pavlovian nightmare waiting to happen. Not to mention the oodles of weddings Shani needs to suffer through whilst wielding the unmarried and on the hunt banner her mother has cast over her.

Bit by bit, Shanis life is slowly falling apart, and she cant help but feel that perhaps its a sign. Is everything thats happening to her some sort of karmic indicator that she needs to get married and start popping out gaggles of littlies, stat?

The Wedding Season'is a confident, competent offering from debut author Su Dharmapala, and blends all of the elements of a traditional chick-lit novel with an aromatic helping of Lankan culture. Its local setting rings beautifully true to me (why would one venture past Dandenong? What on earth is the appeal of'St Kevins alumni? And why would you shop at Safeway when an ethnic grocery store is so much cheaper?), and the over-the-top dramas of Shani and her circle of friends and family makes for some chuckle-inducing reading. Im not sure whether to be delighted or mortified that so much of it was so very familiar to me (Aunty Chandra is eerily like my father-in-law).

That said, this is a book that in large part has to be read rather in the same manner as watching a Bollywood extravaganza: its larger than life, extremely silly, and full of inflated archetypes. It even contains choreographed dance-offs. (Fortunately its shorter than your average Bollywood movie.) However, whilst the majority of the book comes off as a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of the Lankan Melburnian community, the book takes a surprisingly serious turn about three quarters of the way through, leaving the reader feeling as though theyve been sideswiped by a tram determined to rattle through the red light at the St Kilda Junction. Personally, I struggled to reconcile this new direction with the light tone of everything that happens before this point, and though I can see how the ending has been foreshadowed earlier on in the book, it seems odd for things to take such a dark turn in order to get there.

Still, in all, this ones a fun, witty read that will keep readers turning the pages, and theres enough going on here that even the out-of-the-blue twist towards the end will keep you reading away.

A note on the cover: Though its an eye-catching design overall, Im a little disappointed that the cover model used for this book is light-skinned, particularly as from memory Shani is described as a dark-skinned Sri Lankan. Racial diversity is lacking enough in this genre as it is, and its a shame to see an opportunity to celebrate diversity being overlooked. Likewise, I found the inclusion of a glossary a little patronisingthe meaning of the terms included can be clearly inferred from their context.

Rating: star Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapalastar Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapalastar Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapalablankstar Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapalablankstar Book Review: The Wedding Season by Su Dharmapala (good)

With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy

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  1. Great review! Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Helen! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  2. This sounds like a book I would like to try. Thank you for the well-fleshed review. :)

  3. It does sound like a very interesting book. Will put it on my wish list.

  4. I saw this at the bookstore the other day when the cover caught my eye (shame about the lack of diversity representation though)- thanks for sharing your review Stephanie

  5. Stephanie /

    Pleasure, Shelleyrae. It is a beautiful cover designits certainly eye-catching with those bold pinks and purples.

  6. I quaver to think what misrepresentative covers (and those promoting ethnic stereotyping) say about the reading audiences to which they are being marketed.

    As for the story itself, I would love to be given a look at Melbourne through its Sri Lankan community so I am going to put this book high on my TBR list :-) The circles in which I moved when I lived there revolved mostly around the Polish, Greek, and Scandinavian communities (any book recs for those?;-)).

  7. Stephanie /

    Its a vicious cycle, I think, Danielle: the market is conservative, so publishers make their designs conservative, so the market sees only this conservative material and becomes more and more set in its ways

    Hmm, Christos Tsiolkas comes to mind for the Greek community, but I might have to get back to you about the Polish and Scandinavian ones. :) Ill do a call-out and let you know!

  8. Thank you, Stephanie, how kind! This is very much appreciated, indeed! And I will look up Christos Tsiolkas straightaway.

    As for covers, there is probably something in what you suggest. But I do find it, how do I put it, startling? puzzling? thought-provoking, defintely, in this day and age of international outreach, intercontinental travel, ethnic foods, etc. that book covers (at least in popular and mainstream fiction) are still frequently stuck in a geographical and cultural no wo/mans land. Then again, when I moved to the United States I was struck, after I became more familiarised with the enormous selection of books, by how little translated literature I was finding.