Ayesha Husain’s debut novel follows a woman’s journey of self-discovery
yesha Husain’s debut novel, What More Could She Possibly Want?, is a familiar story. Irrespective of our socio-economic background, we have all heard or seen it around us.
It is a powerful and thought-provoking story that delves into the complexities of marriage, mental health and personal fulfilment. The protagonist is a woman struggling to find happiness in her life as she navigates a troubled marriage, family, and societal expectations while battling depression.
Husain explores how women are often expected to prioritise their family’s needs above their own and how this can lead to discontent and lack of fulfillment.
The plot follows Noor, a young woman who enters into an arranged marriage with Zain, orchestrated by their parents. Entering this marriage with much hope, she struggles to find validation and recognition as a wife and daughter-in-law in her new family and feels the weight of societal expectations.
She tries to develop a deeper connection with her husband but always ends up being let down. There are no villains in this equation. It’s a consequence of putting together two individuals that don’t have much in common. They have, overall, a different perspective on life and what they want from it.
While navigating her life, a part of her continues to hold on to the ambitions that she was passionate about during her student life. She realises this during a conversation with one of her in-laws who asks her what she wants to do with her life. She spontaneously responds with, “I want to be somebody.”
“That day, Noor understands what she wants. She has wanted to be somebody and though she does not just yet know what that means exactly, arriving at that clarity of purpose is enough to lift her spirits.”
As she takes on an exploratory journey, life takes another turn with motherhood. Despite fulfilling her responsibilities effectively, she continues to feel empty and unfulfilled. With each passing year of their marriage, her relationship with her husband is confined to parenthood. As they are busy building a life for themselves to nurture a unit of four, they end up neglecting to nurture their bond, lacking patience and empathy for each other.
Noor finds solace in self-improvement and self-reflection and finds the courage to pick up again where she had left off and pursues her experiences beyond her conventional roles – internalising meanwhile the emotional trauma and gas-lighting.
The author has done an excellent job of portraying Noor’s struggles, and toxic cultural matrix, making the reader feel her pain and confusion. As the story progresses, we see her faced with difficult choices that impact her life forever. The writing is simple and compelling. The storyline is engaging.
Husain’s novel also reflects societal pressures and expectations placed on women in traditional cultures and how they can create a cycle of generational trauma.
When it gets too much and she starts to react, everyone around her takes their gas-lighting a notch further. She is called ungrateful and told she has everything a woman could wish for. With the onset of depression, neither she nor anyone around her understands the problem. Everyone assumes and hopes that it is merely a phase and the problem will resolve itself over time.
“For her family, both near and far, however, as long as the façade of happiness was there, all was well.”
Unable to find a support system from those she has relied on the most, she ends up entangled in a situation that gives her short-term respite but proves to be frighteningly foul, with misplaced trust that ends in merciless deception.
There are times when you have to wish for her to get a break, to get her ‘there is ease after adversity’ moment, but as it is in real life, yet another tragedy follows, adding to her burdens.
Ultimately, things start to change, resulting from great effort on Noor’s part as she understands the depth of her strength and decides that it is up to her to create a future that is in sync with her vision. We see her reach the stage of her life where what anyone thinks and does or doesn’t do for her matters no longer.
The storyends on a liberating and comforting note, highlighting how a woman’s courage is the foundation of her home. The following lines will resonate with every woman:
“A woman does have a home she can call her own, Noor thought. It is the one she builds herself. Her home is not built with bricks and mortar. It is built with fear, loss and hope but it rests on the solid foundation of courage.”
Husain’s novel is not just the story of a woman’s journey toward finding inner peace and happiness; it also reflects societal pressures and expectations placed on women in traditional cultures and how they can create a cycle of generational trauma.
It is a deeply emotional novel that explores age-old challenges that women continue to face today. It is a must-read for anyone looking for a thought-provoking and inspiring story of self-discovery and personal growth.
What More Could She Possibly Want?
Author: Ayesha Husain
Publisher: KITAB (Pvt) Limited
Price: Rs 2,000
The reviewer is a communications, public relations and sustainability professional. She tweets @FatimaArif