Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.
I put off reading this book for a long time because it is soooo long (1,342 pages in the hardcover edition). But learn from my wimpiness. This book is awesome. If you like historical fiction; if you like a terrific plot-driven novel that totally pulls you in, and characters you cannot convince yourself are not actually real people; if you love romance and intrigue; if you love plot twists; but most of all if you love really good writing, you will love this book.
Steven Wu has a review I mostly agree with:
A Suitable Boy is the story of several Indian families whose paths intersect continually over a period of about a year. India has only recently gained its independence from the British, and in his lenthy tome Seth takes us through all the ramifications of that momentous change, from the modern city to the backwards country, and from the political to the intensely personal. But, as the title suggests, A Suitable Boy never strays far from the subject of love and marriage–indeed, the book both begins and ends with weddings.
A Suitable Boy is a superbly well-written book. Although I thought at first that Seth’s tone was far too flippant, I soon came to appreciate the simple, unpresuming, but eminently readable style that Seth adopts from the first page to the last. It’s really remarkable that in over 1,300 pages of densely spaced text, Seth at no point wrote a single sentence that I found awkward, melodramatic, or out of place. Nor does Seth sacrifice content to maintain such a high quality of writing–the book includes everything from straight-up action to long brooding descriptions, from fast-paced dialogue to moody soliloquies, from lovely portrayals of India and its landmarks to involving emotional moments.
Seth also does an admirable job handling the enormous cast of characters. Even the most minor characters are easily distinguishable from each other, and by the end of the book it is hard to avoid the feeling that you know these characters intimately (in some cases, quite literally so). Even more impressively, Seth deals deftly with the dizzying complexity of India’s historical background. When I began the book I knew next to nothing about India except for the meager amount that was taught in America’s public school system, but I very seldom felt that Seth had left me in the dark, even though a significant proportion of the book deals with the minutiae of Indian politics. Seth was able to express the urgency of Indian politics to me even when I knew very little about what was going on.
One relatively minor frustration for a reader not familiar with Indian history and culture is trying to figure out the meaning of the Indian terms and phrases the author uses throughout the book. Here’s where a glossary really helps, and someone named Helen at a blog called Reading “A Suitable Boy” has compiled one.
Vikram Seth’s publisher, HarperCollins, has a Reader’s Guide for book groups and anyone else who wants some framework for discussing, thinking, or writing about A Suitable Boy.
You can preview the book for free at Google Books. (You will not be able to read the entire book!)
Seth’s Wikipedia page is here.
Contemporary Writers has a detailed biography that includes a complete bibliography.
Oh joy! A sequel to A Suitable Boy, titled — wait for it — A Suitable Girl, is in the works. The bad news: It won’t be out until 2013 at the earliest.
Apparently, not everyone likes the book. Ah well. Can’t please everyone. Mayank Austen Soofi mounts a defense.
Check out what the 2,646 Library Thing members who have read A Suitable Boy have to say about it.