Books & Literature

Book Review: The Cult of Romance, by Sarah Ayoub

YOUNG ADULT: Natalie is in for the trip of her life. But can she save her friend from the cult of romance, without falling in love herself?

A heart-warming story that looks at gender, family, friendships, culture, and meeting expectations.

Feature image credit: HarperCollins Publishers

Sarah Ayoub is a freelance journalist, commentator, and post graduate research student based in Sydney. The Cult of Romance is her latest novel.

This is the story of a 19-year-old Australian-Lebanese young woman, Natalie, who is studying at university. She has made plans with her best friend Janet to start a cake business to raise funds for overseas adventures. Janet returns from a holiday in Lebanon and announces her engagement to a Lebanese man. Natalie understandably is horrified, hurt and angry as this means her life plans will now change. And besides, Janet is way too young to consider marriage!

The wedding is to take place in Lebanon, and as her maid of honour, Natalie has to travel back to the homeland of her ancestors, a place she has never visited. There she meets a culture which is very different from the one her grandmother has remembered.

Natalie must navigate around her Lebanese and Australian identities, feeling like she doesn’t really belong in either culture. There are expectations, whether real or imagined, on both sides, and being a woman makes life doubly difficult.

Ayoub’s descriptions of Lebanon are vivid and appealing for the avid traveller. From the beautiful cedar wood forests to the archaeological sites, her descriptions of Lebanese culture move between funny, poignant, and heart-warming. The food choices are also tempting and may encourage the reader to immediately look for the nearest Lebanese restaurant.

Love, family, culture, migration, and abandonment issues are all themes throughout The Cult of Romance. But be warned, this is not really a romance story; it’s more anti-romance as Natalie appeals to Janet to reconsider her decision.

Ayoub’s ideas on gender identity are a constant throughout the book. Natalie unfortunately takes a very long time to work out her feelings and the same angst is often repeated over the course of the book.

The first two chapters feel like they are written by a different person. ”Like” is used very often. The language thankfully changes soon after and becomes much easier to read and has a better flow.

At the centre of The Cult of Romance are Natalie’s friendships. They are obviously extremely important and the love shown towards each one is heart-warming even though they may not agree with each other. Natalie’s relationship, or lack thereof, with her mother only has a tantalisingly cursory mention and it feels like more could have been told of their story.

The storyline about having to fit into two cultures would be relevant to many Australians. Those who emigrated from their homeland many years ago are often still holding onto their old ways, when the youth, customs and the language have actually moved on in their home country. Readers who are trying to fit into a new and different culture may find that this story resonates with them, and could help some to not feel quite so alone.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: HarperCollins Publishers
Released: May 2022
RRP: $19.99

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