Book Review: A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth

Long and rambling, at times it draws you in, at times I felt I was struggling through a tar pit of irrelevant or tedious detail. It’s one of the longest novels ever published, and boy did it feel like it at times.

This has been on my reading list for a while, as it’s on the Big Read top 100, and also on my unified list of 100 novels. The sheer bulk of it put me off many times, but on the Big Read top 100 I’d got down to this or Ulysses…

The book follows four families and miscellaneous additional characters in India shortly after Partition, 1951 and 1952. The title thread is the search to find a suitable husband for Lata, a daughter in one of the families, but this is only one of many threads, and at times I thought one of the others was really the major thread.

Some books take the reader straight from A to B. Some books meander, but it’s still clear where you’re going. A Suitable Boy wanders all over the place, takes diversions along side tracks and dives down rabbit holes of detail. Seth weaves a rich tapestry, and I felt like I learned a lot about the Indian psyche and culture, but there were many times when I just wished he’d get on with it. I imagine Seth thinking “why use one sentence when I can use a page? Why use a page when I can use a chapter?” At times I found myself pulled into the story, but it was patchy until the last 200 or so pages. The pace picked up, and it stayed focussed on the two major story lines.

I think it would have benefited from more aggressive editing, and could happily lose 500 from the nearly 1500 pages.

I read recently that Seth is working on a sequel, to be called A Suitable Girl. Will I read it? Not if it’s anywhere near the same length as A Suitable Boy. But if it’s short enough, I will, to find out what happens to Lata, Maan, Pran, Bhaskar, and other characters. So although I’d have a hard time recommending this to anyone, it clearly drew me in.

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