Meera Syal's second novel features a trio of close and somewhat unlikely childhood friends. Sunita, a former law student and activist, has married her university sweetheart Akash, and is settled into a life of overweight, underappreciated motherhood. Tania is a raven-maned beauty who's rejected marriage and anything traditionally Asian for a high-flying TV career and a compliant Indophile boyfriend. And then there's Chila. Innocent, kind, funny Chila, with her simple soul and her glass animal collection, has just, to everyone's amazement, snared Deepak--the "most eligible bachelor within a twenty-mile radius."
A comedienne and actress as well as the author of the prize-winning Anita and Me, Syal expertly steers her characters through what we might call middle youth--that emotional roller coaster of an age when the real growing up is done. Everywhere her trademark wit and sensitivity are on display. There's the inevitable bitching at the wedding: "Now the sister is howling. I'd howl if I had a moustache like hers..." Then, after the ceremony, come the traditional tears:
Tissue-clutching matriarchs reattached themselves to harrumphing husbands, reaffirming their bonds to each other and the watching world. Single girls clucked in feverish groups, high on the drama of the departure, tossing their fancy dupattas at the single men, torn between the horror and the longing of it all. What comes after that, alas, is infidelity and envy and betrayal. True to its stoic title, Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee encompasses not only the strengths but the limits of female friendship. Yet the author retains her sense of humor and cross-cultural irony to the very end. One final note: if you're pregnant and have set your heart on natural childbirth, avoid pages 72 and 73. Or else book that elective cesarean and painkilling cocktail. Now. --Lisa Gee