Though its title might lead you to believe that this book is a romance, Monica Alis Love Marriage (which is currently being adapted for television) is grand in scope, covering class differences, racism, sexism, religion and relationships. But its also about families (the ones we inherit and the ones we make) and sex (whether one is having it or not). Yasmin, a bright doctor-to-be following in her fathers footsteps, is engaged to Joe, a doctor whose mother is a celebrated feminist. Yasmins family is Muslim, and, from her perspective, they are quite tight-lipped and keep their eyes averted when it comes to sex, whereas Joes mother, Harriet, is happy to speak at length on the subject. The two families meet for the first time over dinner, and this leads to unexpected relationships, simmering tensions and deep introspection.

Where did the idea for this novel come from?

“I was working on two different stories. One was about Harriet, a famous feminist academic and North London liberal who had a very colourful love life and was famous for this memoir about her past lovers. And then I was working on a separate story about Yasmin, but I wasnt sure that either would turn into a novel. I had those two very strong characters that I was working on, and then I had a lightbulb moment: I thought, ‘Well, what if I put them together?’ Those moments are really quite rare, but that was one moment I can point to. As soon as I thought of putting them together, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun to write, and I knew it was a book I had to write.”

Its actually Yasmins mother, Anisah, and Harriet who seem to connect. How did that relationship come about?

“I was interested in exploring relationships between parents and adult children, and Yasmin really starts off thinking that Joe and his mother have an ideal open relationship where everything gets discussed, whereas in her household, theyre not so open and things arent talked about. And Yasmin also starts off, as a lot of us do, [not seeing her mother] as an individual person. Anisah is just ‘Ma’—shes in the kitchen, shes cooking, she dispenses love and advice and parables and stories. There is a relationship that Harriet and Anisah forge between them from quite unpromising beginnings. Harriet takes Anisah seriously and actually takes the time to find out about her. But its only through her entry into Harriets world and Harriets house that Yasmin starts to see what an extraordinary person Anisah is in her own right.”

How is the screen adaptation going?

“The main challenges are structural. Some of the things that happen later need to be brought forward. Things that happen offstage need to be brought on to the stage. But theres a lot of story, which is helpful, and it lends itself quite well to being adapted to the screen.” 

What for you is the central theme of the novel?

“I write from character—thats always been the way I approach writing. The only thing I could say is that sex is really the engine of the book. It propels the story at all the major turning points. Its at the heart of how the protagonists grapple with their identities. Its what creates the drama and the conflict in the relationships. Its most often the lens through which we understand things about the characters.”

Be sure to pick up Love Marriage, a captivating social comedy from Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Monica Ali.