A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)

This is a remarkable book, and big, so big in fact, that I am taking up a second post for all my remaining remarks. Starting with a quote that I really love:

“She paused by the science shelves, not because she understood much science, but, rather because she did not. Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her – the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”

There are a whole slew of characters to meet in A Suitable Boy, yet I didn’t feel confused with them at any point.  Partly this is due to my reading a little each day, retaining the thread of who is who, but the four family trees provided, and side characters who are easily associated with certain characters or places helped, and I was rarely troubled placing a character  who was returning after 200 pages in the wilderness.

Seth is a big fan of poetry and his playful rhyming couplets are seen throughout, most noticably describing each chapter, and then through the incessant creations of the Chatterji family.  There are also myriad references to various Indian mythological works which encourages a deeper reading into Indian mythology.  Sprinkled throughout are bits of the local language which was a nice touch, especially when I started to recognise what was being referred to, or which familial names were used to denote relationships.

The plot is unhurried and slowly expands to include all of life and society, it really allows the world to be shown in richness and depth.  Whether the reader thinks this much detail is relevant or not, it is certainly worth the exploration and gives the book a much more authentic feel.

There is plenty of conflict, whether it be class, religious and political divides, or generational.  Everybody has a prejudice of some sort, whether conscious of it or not.  Seth explores all sides of these, offering plenty of insight which has the capacity to bring out both sympathy or revulsion at various times.

This is offset by the feeling of community which goes to the heart of the book.  Whether or not divides are caused by external forces, the clan, or family always have a certain bond, no matter how tenuous.  I genuinely worried for the characters, all of them without exception, because the author’s creations are nuanced, and oozing character.  It is easy to empathise with each one at some point within their plot thread, whether likeable or the opposite.

The last few hundred pages were an absolute joy, the pace picked up significantly as it headed towards its conclusion, it made all the build up feel very worthwhile, and I was sad to see the last few leafs slowly join the left hand side as I finished.  It’s a very rewarding panorama of life, when all is said and done but just such a shame it has to end.

That said there are some problems with the book. The uneasy nature of arranged marriages weren’t effectively explore, and the writing of certain incidents, one religious, and one of abuse (not religious) aren’t given equal weight despite being poles apart from other storylines.

It was a joy to spend a bit of time on my daily trip to India.  I was really happy that I had, as there is always a worry that such an investment in time will not be rewarded in the way one hopes, especially with and all those other books looking accusingly at you from the bookshelf.  For some, perhaps, there will be a wish for more severe editing but I would happily have read more intricate details had they been on offer. I already look forward to rereading this again in the future.

A Suitable Boy is a patchwork of intricate design, I hope that the future sequel a Suitable Girl can live up to this book.

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23 Replies to “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)”

  1. Dear Ste J, I too have often taken pleasure in some Indian texts, most notably “Cutting for Stone” and “The God of Small Things.” Both were major bestsellers, but they are very different: the first is more recent, and is wrriten by a surgeon about characters in the medical scene in India. The second, a little older, about the 90’s or so, is a sort of coming-of-age story, and is exceedingly beautiful, though horrifying in some of its events. I don’t know if you will get to them, or like them, but I certainly hope so.

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    1. I’ve heard of The God of Small Things, and will certainly have a look at Cutting for Stone as well. I am limited in the books on offer here but will keep an eye out. Thankfully I am surrounded with many books in the house to read (or read again) so am not too distressed at this point on the lack of depth in choice.

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  2. Once again, Ste J, I enjoyed reading your thoughts upon this, what appears to be, an epic tale of culture and traditions, family and individual trials. Your pleasure is obvious!

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    1. There is so much to appreciate here, I had no idea how taken I would be with the book when I started. Despite its size, I felt like I could just flip back to page one and start again.

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  3. Wow, I really must get on with finding my copy of this. I did not know there is to be a sequel – even more reason to make haste to the shelves.

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  4. Your enthusiasm for the book really comes through Ste – it’s probably one I’d be reluctant to read particularly due to the length, but I may change my mind after reading your review!

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    1. I found that reading a bit a day let me get through it at a fair pace. When I finished, I was sad to not have my daily trip to India to enjoy. At the moment I am enjoying my trips to a fictional African state, which is a very subtle hint to the book I am reading now.

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  5. Read this and it took me more than a week. Seth is an excellent poet also (search for his poems online. Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse). I like Seth’s character building, he is never in a hurry. He gives the reader enough time to get acquainted with all the characters. 🙂

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    1. So many books fail to establish characters to my satisfaction, I want to know about them and their world. I am looking forward to coming across more of Seth’s work. All in good time/If I don’t it’s a crime, as Seth may quip.

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  6. Fascinating! You, Ste J are the perfect person to read any book. I’m still chipping away at books, slowly. That Ironweed sounds like an interesting book.

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    1. Why, thank you. Ironweed (just reviewed, coincidentally) was thoroughly enjoyable in all of its melancholy glory. I seem to have gotten my ‘read on’ this year with many books waiting to be reviewed. Chipping away is all good, progress is never wasted effort.

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    1. There is A Suitable Girl in the works, it’s been delayed due to Seth’s writer’s block. ASB is certainly well worth taking the time to read, I am excited for you to experience it!

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  7. Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie are my favorite Indian writers in English (Also VS Naipaul if you consider him Indian). A suitable boy is certainly Seth’s best.

    Seth always joked that the publishers are pushing him to write a suitable girl after the success of a suitable boy. He said he hates stereotypical sequels like this.

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    1. I really need to pick up some Rushdie, I enjoyed VS Naipaul’s A Bend in the River as well. A Suitable Girl, will apparently be a ‘jump sequel’, if he never does get around to finishing it though, I won’t mind as I enjoyed A Suitable Boy enough to read it again (and probably again, too.

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