Love in the 21st Century
“Love, Lies and Indomee” by Nuril Basri (translated by Zedeck Siew)
(2019), Epigram Books
We’ve all crossed paths with love before; we hear stories of failed relationships, infidelity, perhaps forgiveness. These stories are often weighed down by familial expectation and pressure from friends. In Nusri Basri’s Love, Lies and Indomee, you’ll find yourself caught up in the struggles of finding love in the 21st century.
I was immediately captivated by the title, and even more so by the narrative: 27-year-old Ratu turns to online dating to pacify her mother’s nagging to get married. She meets the handsome but arrogant Hans, and in one of many twists in the story, he ends up being the chauffeur of Ratu’s boss. The novel follows the unlikely pair and their transactional relationship, with Hans posing as Ratu’s boyfriend while she pays for his daily expenses. The main trope of fake dating/transactional love starts off as a running joke between the two main characters, but it evolves into a serious relationship that raises questions about value of love and the price we are willing to pay to love someone.
“I do need the money. But I don’t need to be paid to love somebody.” (Love, Lies and Indomee, p. 47)
Basri’s unapologetic tale grapples with the myriad difficulties in navigating relationships. Ratu’s journey with love is far from smooth, thanks to her draining work at the Indonesian Korean Embassy and her estranged ties with her family. The challenges she faces are not uncommon to most of us, and Ratu’s snarky perspective adds a touch of humour to her misadventures in life.
While the narrative is mostly light-hearted, it touches on more serious issues of self-worth. Ratu is not the most confident protagonist, struggling with body image issues and unspoken comparisons to her late sister. Reading a story with a larger-sized main character was both refreshing and comforting, knowing that love is not impossible for those who are not considered conventionally attractive. Her concerns about being in a relationship with Hans were relatable and mildly heart-breaking: from giving up her favourite breakfasts to exercising more, Ratu feels a lingering insecurity about herself by being around Hans.
Basri’s novel is very much grounded in reality with its settings and thematic concerns. Familiar scenes of Jakarta and roadside food stalls made the story feel reminiscent of catching up with an old friend and listening to their adventures in different parts of Indonesia. The narrative is rendered more realistic with its ever-changing characters. Our protagonist goes through multiple phases of relatable mistakes and growth. Characters like Hans are despicable one moment, and loveable the next. The characters grow in unexpected ways, and none are left in stasis in this dynamic novel.
Seeing the different characters change kept me on my toes as I read—there were moments where I detested certain characters for being foolish, self-centred, others where I could not help but grieve with them. The characters were frustrating to watch in an almost gratifying way knowing the potential repercussions that were to come. Even seemingly minor characters make their mark on the narrative in significant ways and contribut to several twists in the plot.
The novel serves as a reminder that love is never perfect and that every fresh start rides on the coattails of something devastating. It also reminds us that people can grow, even those who wallow in anger and envy. Though the romantic narrative can get cheesy at times, the novel is unabashed and honest in its delivery of these reminders.
Love, Lies and Indomee will be an enjoyable read for anyone who has brushed hands with love: whether you’ve been in it, or you’ve watched it from afar. Basri captures the spirit of being lost in love, and his narrative takes you by the hand for this humorous and touching journey.
Love, Lies and Indomee is available at leading Singapore bookstores and online here.