Shyama is a successful businesswoman, owner of a popular beauty salon and a divorced mother of a student daughter. However Shyama wants another child with her partner Toby, a younger man, and she is told that she will not be able to have one naturally. Mala is an intelligent but impoverished Indian woman, her family died leaving little dowry and Mala’s husband thinks that getting Mala to act as a surrogate for a wealthy couple will allow them live a little more comfortably. Inevitably the lives of Shyama and Mala meet as Mala becomes the surrogate for Shyama and Toby’s child but as Shyama’s aged parents fight to regain their investments in India and Tara, her daughter, suffers in London, Shyama is torn between her family, her culture and her ambition.
Syal is a well-known actress and her previous novels have veered towards the comedic element, this one is different. On the surface this is a story about two women, one with money and one without, but the subplots explore so much more. Tara suffers an assault in the the UK and then travels to India to support women’s rights, so changing. Mala travels to the UK and flourishes, Syama’s parents have to take legal action against their own family to possess what is theirs by right. The constant theme is one which compares the life and freedoms of women in the UK with those of women in India, either through caste, fertility or sexual rights, and this makes the book far more thoughtful that it initially seems.