A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth – review

Folks I have last week completed reading this A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, which was published by Phoenix House UK back in 1993.
I don’t know about you, but it takes me a week or two to read a normal sized book. I tend to do my reading at a leisurely pace, as one would do lying on a sunny beach. However, this one was no ordinary paperback, thick as a wrestler’s arm, it consisted of almost 1500 pages, four books in one I had say. Going through it was a mammoth task, spanning six weeks of my time, of endless opening, shutting, and frustrated wrenching. By the time, I had finished, once almost new book looked as if it had been through a cycle in our washing machine.
It took perseverance to get past the first fifty or so pages. There were so many characters, all vying for your attention, it was difficult to keep tag of who was who. I had to keep referring back to the family history chart – the clans with extended families of Chatterjee, Mehra, Kapoor and Khan. Particularly as I read with frequent breaks (I have my own writing to do) one tends to lose track of the characters and setting. I can understand why so many readers give up with this book very early on. However, once you are past the first few chapters you begin to get into the swing and then it is difficult to put it down. I found the characters lifelike and authentic. The setting, the political landscape, the drama were excellently portrayed. The author appeared well-informed diving into politics of post independent India. At its core, this is a love story, a tale of Lata and her mother’s attempt to find a suitable boy for her to marry.
One or two criticisms: many of the characters’ inner dialogues were at times unnecessarily elaborate; this seemed not to add to the storyline. The settings and descriptions of places were gratuitously detailed, which made me question – does a reader really need to know all that. The ending of the novel appeared a bit machinated when all three of Lata’s suitors bump into each other at Eden Garden cricket stadium.
Finally, did Lata find a husband? Did she fall in love? Did she marry the man of her choice? On the other hand, did Mrs Rupa Mehra, the mother, have the last word? I will leave it unanswered for those who have yet to read.
All said and done, in my opinion this novel is a literary masterpiece, a phenomenon of 19th century style of storytelling in contemporary setting. If you haven’t yet read this epic novel, I suggest that you find time for it, for it will keep you company for the rest of your life.

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