Nothing but Patience by A.M. Blair is a newly-published retelling of the classic Sense and Sensibility. I know the author through blogging and have been following and adoring her for years. You can find the author (her name is Amal!) @ The Misfortune of Knowing, where she writes about law, books, and gardening. Because I care about the author, my review is biased, but just as I wrote in my last review of her work, A Case of First Impression, I’m as honest as can be.
Nothing but Patience opens with Noor and Maryam Dashel consulting with a lawyer. When their uncle passed away, the sisters were to get an inheritance, including the house in which they live, but a second will has cropped up close to his death, one that cuts out the Dashel sisters and favors their half-brother. Even the house in which the sisters live will be taken from them unless they sue their half-brother and his wife, but the lawyer warns: are they willing to change their entire family dynamic, perhaps be cut off from their nephews, if they sue for a house and money? I don’t know much about U.S. law except we sure like to threaten to sue each other a lot, and I’ve never heard of it ending well.
The novel covers the thirty days until which the Dashel sisters must decide if they will sue and suggest their sister-in-law forced their dying uncle to agree to a new will. Already, the sisters are grieving. Their father has recently passed away, and their mother returned to her home in Sri Lanka with their younger sister. Now, they face eviction as their sister-in-law, Frannie, sweeps into their home, “cleaning it out” while they still live there in order to prepare to put it on the market. The extra sting is Frannie’s family is rich.
Now, this wouldn’t be a Jane Austen retelling if there weren’t some fortuitous romance, and it comes in the form of Edward, who appears smitten with Noor. But wouldn’t you know it, he’s fractious Frannie’s brother. In the process of moving out of their beloved family home, Noor tells Edward about her dream to plant a garden to honor her father. Even though she won’t be living there anymore, she gets started, and Edward delivers plants to contribute. How would Edward feel if he knew Noor was thinking of taking his sister to court?
The characters in Nothing but Patience are lovely and consistent. Even the hateful people are humanized fairly under Blair’s careful hand. I especially loved interactions between Noor and Maryam and their newfound Uncle Ahmed, also from Sri Lanka, and his husband, Jack. After the sisters’ mother connects them with this uncle whom they’ve never met, he rents them a cottage just off of his own home for free if they agree to be his fond family. Oh, do Uncle Ahmed and Uncle Jack love throwing large parties, including American food to appease their guests:
“You like meat, right? And mayonnaise? You Americans put a lot of mayonnaise in your food. It’s not my cup of tea, but I manage to eat it once a year.”
I love that Uncle Ahmed asks if she eats mayo much like other people ask if you eat gluten or enjoy spicy food. His personality is delightful, and I appreciated two loving figures in the story who support their family unconditionally, especially as a counterexample to the half-brother and his brood. Knowing their uncles will support them makes it harder for the Dashel sisters to tell their lawyer to proceed with their case, especially when their relationship with their nephews could be at stake.
The characters remain consistent, which isn’t to say they don’t grow, but they’re never out of character. Noor and Maryam are both good women but are very different. Noor stays logical yet artsy, emotional but strong. Maryam reads younger than Noor, always sleeping until noon and disappearing with her new boyfriend, but her more passionate personality stays within some bounds that demonstrate what her parents were like and her values. No man is “tamed,” no woman is “caught” when it comes to the romantic plot lines, making them enjoyable to read because each character develops naturally in each scene.
While reading Nothing but Patience, I felt a sense of security. Even though there are people doing bad deeds, the novel avoids sexism, ableism, homophobia, and most xenophobia (Noor notes that her bags are always searched when she flies or rides a train). You may argue that it’s unrealistic to populate a book with a decent narrator whose very essence is equity, and plenty of characters who manage to avoid off-color jokes, lascivious stares, and patronizing women, but I read as if I were hanging out with the kind of person I want to be around and experienced an ease in my heart.
You can purchase Blair’s newest novel on Amazon Kindle.