19 August, 2011

A Suitable Book

After a few months of wading, I have finally made it through A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It was brilliant. I was completely daunted by it - being the longest novel written in English and all - but I now fully agree with The Times: "Make time for it. It will keep you company for the rest of your life."

I have to admit, I often find books set in places and times I know nothing about a bit off-putting. It takes all my energy to understand what's going on rather than enjoying the plot. However, despite knowing next-to-nothing about India in the early 1950s, it was wonderful. There were some long sections detailing debates in the Indian parliament that I didn't get on with so well, but the rest was fantastic. I don't think it's giving too much away to say that one of the main plotlines is about finding a suitable boy for a character called Lata to marry and I think one of the best features of the book is that the three young men who end up in the running are all likeable. That goes for all the characters really (and my goodness there are a lot of them and they're mostly related to each other somehow!) - they are all flawed and nearly all likeable in some way or other; i.e. they are like real people! I didn't understand all the cultural references, especially regarding Hindu and Muslim traditions, but it didn't seem to matter too much.

The ending seemed to me to be really sudden, but I quite liked that. It didn't feel like this massive cast had been invented for my reading pleasure, but rather that they were real people and I had just dropped in to witness one particular period of their lives. Although many loose ends were tied up, not all of them were - the lives of the characters continued on past where I stopped reading. In a way this was frustrating, but if Vikram Seth had written it otherwise I think it would have ruined the magic.

One interesting coincidence is that Paul and I have just started to sponsor a child. We said we didn't mind where he or she came from and we were therefore allotted a lovely little girl in India. The charity we are with sent some information about the work they do in the country and it turns out that they started working there after meetings with (then) Prime Minister Pandit Nehru - who is a character in A Suitable Boy! It hadn't really occurred to me until then that at least the outline of the politics in the book must be true.

So nine out of ten for A Suitable Boy. Right, I'm off to read Carrie at last...


  1. Well done you. I remain daunted despite knowing it to be a highly-regarded book.
    If you ever feel you can face India as a setting again, give a go to the Jewel in the Crown series ~ again, well thought of.
    I'm so glad you're sponsoring someone; the rewards are very tangible. I was tempted to do the same, but opted in the end for WaterAid.
    Hope the writing is still going strong! Ceve

  2. Sounds like you made the right choice by sticking with this book - I love that, when you go out of your comfort zone and read something you wouldn't normally, and it pays off.
    I have wanted to sponsor a child for some time now, which I'm reminded of every time a 'Plan' leaflet falls out of Writer's Forum. You've reminded me again, and now that some actual earnings from this job I've technically had for about 2 months now are on the horizon, next month I might actually do it.
    Thanks for a great review.
    Nari x

  3. Ah Chloe, it is one of my favourite books and aside from that personal bias, I think it gives a very subtle and real understanding of key themes of Indian society. I read it when I was living there, and I was struck by how I could relate it to what I saw, and what I knew second hand-and then what a storyteller! I love the ending too! Now I want to read it again! It's like Tale of Two Cities, once you've read it and loved it you always somehow make time to re-read it! Too many exclamation marks! xx

  4. I don't think I could read it again, however good it is! Well, maybe in 50 years or soemthing. A Tale of Two Cities however, I definitely could. Sydney Carton is one of my favourite characters ever written.

    Thanks, Nari. We sponsor with SOS Children because we like the way they do things, but I've bought Christmas presents of Plan many times.


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