Alsanea’s debut, which sparked controversy in her native Saudi Arabia, concerns four wealthy Muslim girlfriends who support each other in the quest for the perfect husband.
An anonymous narrator relays the story via weekly emails to a chat group. The preoccupation with shopping and boy talk among the four central characters, who have been friends since schooldays, seems familiar at first, but the separation of the genders, the veils and the tinted glass soon indicate that different rules apply here. Sadeem gets engaged to Waleed but makes the mistake of permitting him to “cross the line” before the marriage is finalized, and he “divorces” her. Gamrah, married to Rashid, can’t understand his coldness toward her until she discovers he has had a lover all along. Gamrah too ends up divorced, and pregnant. Michelle falls for Faisal, but his mother objects to her family so there will be no wedding. Lamees gets involved with her Shiite friend’s brother, until the Religious Police catch them. These four privileged members of the “velvet class” enjoy expensive cars, first-class flights and plastic surgery (which is against the laws of Islam) but are still subject to the marriage market, where strict tradition holds sway: arranged unions, “pure” females and jealously protective men. Lamees succeeds in making a love match, but Sadeem experiences a second, much deeper disappointment before settling for someone who loves her more than she loves him. Michelle takes revenge on Faisal, attending his wedding looking far lovelier than the bride.
Perfunctory storytelling attracts greater interest because of its unusual origins.