“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.