Sonya Lalli’s debut novel, The Matchmaker’s List, follows Raina as she struggles with the pressures of her family and her culture in regards to getting married. Her best friend is set to be married on Raina’s 30th birthday and with her ex-boyfriend still looming in her mind, Raina is having a hard time handling the stress of her crazy busy investment job on top of all the blind dates her grandmother is setting her up with. I was lucky enough to have a chance to ask Sonya a few questions regarding her amazing book!
Lucien: Congratulations on the North American release of The Matchmaker’s List! Have there been many new experiences between the UK release of The Arrangement back in 2017 and now releasing over here?
Sonya: Thank you so much! Both experiences have been incredible and I’m so thankful to the wonderful people who have made it happen, and the writing and book bloggers community who have been so supportive. The big difference has been that my book is now being released in my home country. Walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf for the first time was priceless — it was at the WH Smith in Liverpool Street Station, by the way! — but it’s going to be absolutely overwhelming when I go home to Saskatoon and see it on shelves there.
You have such a strong writing voice. Was pursuing writing always a goal of yours?
That’s really nice of you to say. And I think so, even though it wavered in terms of priority. During law school for example, I don’t think I wrote at all. I actually don’t think I even read anything that wasn’t a textbook.
What drew you to writing romance?
I don’t think I intended to write in a certain genre. Before, I didn’t even think about genre when I wrote. But in retrospect the fact that I ended up here makes perfect sense. I am a complete sucker for romance.
What’s harder, law school or writing a novel?
Writing a novel. One hundred percent. Yes, law school was hard but everything was concrete. You had the text books, the classes, the exams — you knew what you needed to study and when the tests would be scheduled for and what the passing mark was. Writing a novel… everything is up in the air. There is no set path or right or wrong. You just have to go for it, stick at it, and hope for the best.
From Canada to the States to England and back again, which was your favourite city to live in?
Hmmm. I absolutely loved London, but part of the reason I loved it so much was that I knew being there was temporary. So I think my answer is Toronto. It’s diverse and buzzing and vibrant, and it also is where I see myself spending the rest of my life. Saskatoon will always be home to me, but now Toronto is too.
In the novel I loved the comparison of “modern arranged marriage” to online dating and dating apps. When did that idea come to you in terms of explaining how things work?
While I was writing the book. Some of my friends use dating apps where you can be matched with people who are similar to you, and I thought: well, that’s just like if one of their auntie’s set them up with a guy they thought was similar.
You tackle the social issue of coming out to an unwelcoming community. What drew you to that plot line? Have you ever witnessed something so polarizing in your own social/family circle?
A good thing about my culture is the importance of family, but that also means that our choices in that respect — relationships, marriage, children — can be heavily scrutinized. It can be difficult for the older generations especially to come to terms with choices that don’t meet their family values. As the book shows, these values are changing and modernizing, but the process is slow and every family and community is different.
There have been instances in my community where somebody does something ‘different’ for the first time — and it draws attention, sometimes negative attention– but then eventually it stops being a big deal. Often, no one bats an eyelid the next time that same thing happens.
You also get into the sexism issues of more tradition Indian culture. Do you think that sexism is an issue that is getting better or worse?
I think it depends on the family and community. In my experience, yes, it has gotten a lot better. (A tiny example: thirty-five years ago when my mom didn’t give up her maiden name, people talked; when I didn’t change my name after my wedding, nobody cared.) But I can’t speak for everyone. I know that in general we still have a long way to go.
I loved Raina’s friendship with Shay, even when they were fighting. You’ve said that Nani was inspired by your own grandmother. Was Shay drawn from any real-life friendships?
Shay is a composite of a few of the strong, funny, amazing women in my life: my cousin, who is like a sister to me, and a few of my closest friends.
At its core, The Matchmaker’s List seems to be about finding your place in the world. Whether that’s fitting in with expectations or demolishing them entirely. What kind of advice would you give someone struggling with finding themselves?
Thank you. Even though this is a romance, you’re right, it’s also about Raina’s journey to becoming who she is, and respecting herself enough to be in the ‘right’ romance. I can’t remember who said this — it’s probably been said in a number of iterations — but we first need to love and know our true selves before we can allow another person to love us. That’s easier said than done. So I guess I would say don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t try and stick to some timeline. Believe in yourself and your choices, and you’ll come out the other end stronger.
I’ve got to ask, what’s next for you?
I have another book coming out with Berkley in 2020. It’s not a sequel, but another standalone rom com. I hope there will be more after that. I will continue to work in publishing by day, and write by night!
Thank you, Sonya, for taking the time for the interview. I’m sure I’m not the only one looking forward to your future work and wish you all the best!
And now it’s time for the review!
What I loved about this book was that it wasn’t what I was expecting. I went in looking for a girl going on dates as she’s told to do and finding the perfect guy. Very Hallmark. Cute and simple.
What I got was a story about not just finding love with someone else, but with yourself and your community. It’s about breaking down expectations within Raina and her community as she struggles with her life, as Shay fights against a traditional marriage rituals, as others within their community struggle against homophobic views.
Raina’s character really grows across the year the novel takes place and it was a touching story. Inner strength is powerful, and a lot of us are far stronger than we believe. That’s the reminder The Matchmaker’s List brings to us. Definitely worth picking up under either of it’s publication titles!
I would like to thank Penguin Random House Canada, Berkley Publishing, and Sonya Lalli, herself, for providing me with a copy of this book and for talking the time to allow this blog tour post to happen.