Thursday 7 July 2011

Seth, Vikram "A Suitable Boy"

Seth, Vikram "A Suitable Boy" - 1993

This novel is one of the largest I ever read. It has about 1,500 pages. The story is settled in India in the fifties though the book was published in 1993 as an "epic about life in India". I've read quite a few Indian novels by now but this is by far the most positive one even though it also seems to be a good recollection of Indian life and politics.

Although the main focus is on the family that is looking for "a suitable boy" (to marry) for one of their daughters, the novel centres on four families with different backgrounds, both Hindus and Muslims.

Apparently, it took the author about a decade to write it. And it was worth it. The story unfolds very nicely, you notice that the time was taken to describe the life of the characters. After this publication, Vikram Seth has been compared with Tolstoy, Dickens and Eliot.

This is really a great book and worth reading all those pages.

From the back cover:

"Vikram Seth's novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find -- through love or through exacting maternal appraisal -- a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence."

I also liked "An Equal Music" by the same author although it is quite a different novel.

I also read "Two Lives", a biography about the author's great-uncle and aunt. A wonderful book.


  1. I've been looking at books set in India but the length of this one put me off in case it was a dud.Good to read a review about it. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Carol. I love books about India, and this is by far my favourite one. You can always find more on my blog if you look on the right hand side under labels.

      Thanks for visiting,

  2. I've just finished it, and I thought it was an amazing book, which gives a real picture of life in India just after Independence, mainly among well-off and well-educated families - although there are glimpses of the underclasses as well, particularly in a scene where Kedarnath and Haresh go to visit the man who makes the shoes which Kedarnath sells in his shop. One of the characters is an important politician, and personally I found the political scenes a bit too detailed, although no doubt they would fascinate some readers. I was also a bit confused by them - Nehru certainly was a real person, but presumably Mahesh Kapoor was not. But there must have been a real minister of revenue in 1951-1952, who has been replaced by this imaginary character.

    1. Thank you, Anna. As you can see from my review, it's been almost a decade since I read it (and my reviews weren't very long back then) but I do remember so much of it as if I had been reading it yesterday.

      I couldn't find a minister of revenue in 1951 but as of 1952, it was Mahavir Tyagi. It might have been part of the Ministry of Finance before.

      I always wonder when real people meet fictional ones what really might have happened but I also take it as an incentive to read more about the real person, event, area, if I don't know much about them. That way, I learned a lot about history, politics, geography and science.

      Thanks for stopping by. Always lovely to hear from you.

  3. I am currently reading A Suitable Boy and I have been feeling rather discouraged by its sheer size and the fact that some of the scenes seem to be incredibly drawn out -- seeing your review made me determined to finish it. Looking forward to seeing how it's going to end. By the way, there is now a Netflix show based on this book as well. Have you watched it?

    1. Thanks, Sara, I really hope you will finish and enjoy it. I love large books and this was one of my favourites of them. Apparently, Vikram Seth has been working on a sequel called "A Suitable Girl" for thirty years now. It is supposed to be playing in the present but whether that means thirty years ago or today is the question. LOL

      Anyway, no, I haven't watched the Netflix show, I wasn't even aware there was one. There are always so many. But I will try to have a look. Thanks for that.