Review: The Bride Test16 September 2019
Helen Hoang: The Bride Test
Allen and Unwin, 2019
ISBN 9781760876029, pp. 300, $29.99
“Mỹ could be the most perfect woman in the world, and it wouldn’t change anything. His liking her was inconsequential. In fact, if he liked her, that was all the more reason why he shouldn’t marry her” (32).
Before I even had a copy of The Bride Test in my hands, I had heard of it. All over the online bookish realms, Hoang is stirring up a storm and demanding to be heard. Whilst I haven’t read her first novel, The Kiss Quotient, I found myself in love with The Bride Test‘s golden cover, a drawing of Esme studying. At first I wasn’t sure how the cover matched the novel, but as I read on, I was pulled into a world screaming to be heard.
The Bride Test makes me think of Mamma Mia and Miss Saigon.
Khai’s autism makes relationships difficult. He hates being touched and lives a routine life. He doesn’t need a wife, “nothing gets to you [when] your heart is made of stone” (2). Mỹ, on the other hand, takes on a new life. Living with her daughter in Vietnam, she meets Khai’s mother in a bathroom as she tries to track down a potential bride. Mỹ’s stubbornness earns her a ticket to America and the chance for a green card, security for her family and daughter. As she makes her departure she changes her name, Esmeralda—Esme.
“It wasn’t loneliness if it could be eradicated with work or a Netflix marathon or a good book. Real loneliness would stick with you all the time. Real loneliness would hurt you nonstop” (29-30).
The novel opens with a prologue, ten years ago, as Khai attends the funeral for Andy, his cousin and only friend. This sets the tone for Khai, his choices and understanding of what makes ‘love.’ What makes emotions? The novel acts as a reminder that we experience love in different ways, each of the characters presenting their own twists on it as they support one another.
I adored Hoang’s voice through the piece. It flowed nicely. You understood the characters and their decisions. Esme begins studying—if Khai can’t love her she’ll get her green card another way, if she can’t find her father, she’ll keep going. Khai’s ups and downs with coming to terms with his ‘flu-like feelings.’
A lot is at play within the piece. At times I felt that it was going too fast. That the voices were getting mixed into one another and I found myself lost. But when it was good, it was brilliant. Hoang’s expertise is in the little moments: trapped in a closet (90), explaining the nature of a haircut for Khai (118), the rhythm of sex (158) and the reality of it for women.
“There’s more than one way to love.”
What I found most touching about the novel is something I wonder if Hoang has written in herself. In many relationships an unhealthy level of obsession is at play. We find ourselves attached at every waking hour. For Khai and Esme, they form routine and understanding. They both have their own goals and lives outside one another, and their ability to be individuals even within romance fiction was pure. This connected to the last line of the blurb and reminds readers to experience things their way, and not to conflate their feelings or lack thereof into something that doesn’t exist.
The Bride Test is a really pure novel. It explores the intricacies of family, immigration, mental health, grief and so much more. I am not the authority voice on many aspects of this novel, but I do think its Vietnamese nature and its culture brings its heart to the forefront. Exploring autism from this perspective and reminding readers of international poverty and conditions feels incredibly important. There is so much to unpack within this novel that to do so would take multiple reviews. This is just one.
I was really thrilled to be given the chance to read this through Farrago magazine and look forward to reading The Kiss Quotient next in this slowly diversifying future. Let’s keep reading and advocating for writers like Helen Hoang.