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A Suitable Boy is a lengthy and heavy going novel set in post-independence India and follows the story of four families over a period of just over a year. The main focus of the plot centres around a mother searching for a suitable husband to marry her daughter and the remainder of the novel covers how each of the four main families interact as this search goes on.
At 1349 pages and 591,552 words, the book is described on Wikipedia as one of the largest english language novels of all time and a sequel is apparently planned for publication in 2013 entitled A Suitable Girl. Bearing in mind its length then, this is certainly not a book for either the faint-hearted or the casaual reader!
As you can imagine, the cast of characters in such a huge tome is huge and one of my main problems was that, in the early stages at least, each new chapter deals with a different character and situation related, often indirectly, to the main story. I found it hard at times remembering who was whom and had to backtrack a little to keep up with what was going on. For me, this book started off very early on as very hard work and became no easier the further I progressed! I am not one to normally be put off by big books but it came to a point when I began to wonder if I had bitten off far more than I could chew!!
I have still scored this fairly highly because there is no mistaking that the book is an accomplished feat! It just wasn't for me and I only started reading it as part of a read-a-long on a book forum I frequent where we each read a section of a book then discuss it online in a thread. This was how I first discovered Jung Chang's Wild Swans so thought I would give this a go as well but it really wasn't for me I am afraid!
I am not really into love stories and felt bogged down by the heavy emphasis on Indian Politics and the attempted changes on reform and ideal that are refrenced in this novel. It is a good book if you want to learn more about India and its history but I just thought that I could not justify spending so much time and effort on na book I simply wasn't enjoying when I have so many other books on my To-Be-Read pile!
I would say I got about just over a third of the way through before I reluctantly abandoned this and think that something of an achievment for somrething so large and heavy-going. I know others who have reviewed this have all sung its praises, and it is largely applauded as being an epic novel and something of a modern classic, but it really just wasn't for me. That said, it is a highly talented and respectable piece of work, it just couldn't sustain my own personal interest for the amount of time it would've have taken me to complete this tome!
When this clattered through my letterbox from Amazon, I took one look at the phenomenal length of it and the tiny font size on each page and thought, this one is going to be a struggle! However, never one to shirk from a challenge, I dove straight in and a month or two later, I was sorry when the book ended.
It emcompasses a huge number of people in the 'cast' but follows two main characters, Lata, a girl who in a very Jane Austen style is searching with the driving force of her mother behind her, for a suitable husband. The other character is Mann, a young tearaway who we see fall in love with a totally unsuitable muslim courtesan and go on a journey of self discovery as he tries to deal with her somewhat infuriatingly hot and cold affections. It is set in 1950s India and follows a large number of families who are all linked together through these two main characters.
Through the families and their different social backgrounds and interactions, we see a snapshot of India at that time, how it is struggling to find its own voice after getting rid of the British and setting up its own government. I must admit the parts dealing with the passing of bills and the consititution of the country were a bit dull, but the vehicle of the character's involvement in it made this subject come to life.
Some of the descriptions are very poetic and there is a gentle humor to the book, which did remind me a lot of Austin. The plot is also very similar and the mother, Mrs Rupa Mehra, could have stepped straight out of Pride and Prejudice. This is by no means a bad thing however, and I found that I looked forward to my next installment of gossip from the family circle that Seth has created here.
Born in 1952 in Calcutta, India, VIKRAM SETH was educated at Oxford, Stanford University and Nanjing University..He has travelled widely and lived in Britain,China and the USA.He now lives in Calcutta, India
His first novel, THE GOLDEN GATE : A NOVEL IN VERSE(1986), describes the experiences of a group of friends living in California..
His second novel A SUITABLE BOY, at 1347 pages ,is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language...It won the prestigious BOOKER'S award for 1994...
Set in the post-indpendence India in the early 1950's, it deals with the efforts of a widowed mother looking for a SUITABLE BOY for her daughter...The novel begins with a wedding and closes with a wedding...It is a very colorful novel with accounts of festivals,the exotic food and the rich and flashy lifestyles of the rich Indians and the changing political equations, amidst all this
a growing romance between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy....
A Suitable Boy is a superbly well-written book, and Vikram Seth's style of writing is simple, unpresuming , but eminently readable to the last page...With the enormous number of characters that pass through Vikram Seth manages to keep the plot interesting througout..
One gets to know the historical and political details of the post independence India from the point of view of the various characters in the book..the power struggle that is taking place between the various political leaders and the effect it has on the everyday lives of the families around them..
It is also the story of, several Indian families whose paths intersect continually over a period of 18 months...and it is a love story.....And above all it is the story of ROOPA MEHRA whose youngest daughter LATA remains unmarried, and the widowed Mrs. Mehra is bent on rectifying the condition by enlisting her friends and relatives to help her find Lata "a Suitable Boy"..
Whereas Lata has her own plans..as she tells a friend that she does not want an arranged marriage, as is common among Indian families.
There are several suitors , but, Lata is attracted to Kabir, a handsome classmate of hers, sadly according to her mother he is a "MUSLIM"....those were the days when inter religious marriages were frowned upon....
There are other stories unfolding, that of Lata's brothers and their families..the UNSUITABLE marriage of her brother which further depresses and angers Roopa , she carries on with her mission nevertheless...
Amidst all these Roopa is determined that Lata marries the boy of her choice.....there is a lot of humor involved, especially with all those comical letters that Roopa" writes Off" to various people.....
Letters comically phrased , sometimes beginning right in the middle of a paragraph , (the rest of it has already been told by Roopa in her own thoughts ), putting down words and phrases exactly as she thinks,sending these letters to all and sundry ,while arranging and manipulating things to work her way, which is mainly finding the right boy for Lata...
And, the extra marital affair of her daughter in law, and Roopa's reactions to these episodes are comical...., Roopa's character is well etched and one can easily identify with it...There are scores of Roopa's around us.
Lata as the strong willed daughter proves to be a constant headache for Roopa, as she fails to fall in step with any of her manipulations,plans or arrangements, and ,carries on with her love affair, meeting Kabir and getting more and more deeply involved with him.....
It is finally Lata who makes her choice between her 3 suitors..the Handsome Kabir,A Businessman of her mother's choice and a Writer friend of her's......Roopa too is happy as, some of her arrangements at "Helping" Lata "Fall in love" and yet, at the same time have a marriage "Arranged" by her have both succeeded...
A SUITABLE BOY is a novel whose scope ranges from the politics of a great man to the maneuvering of a mother, from an epic account of a nation at infancy, fighting for stability, to the torment of a young girl in love....
CHARACTERS IN SUITABLE BOY
Families form the backbone of this novel
The four main families mentioned in the novel are:
1) The Mehras - Mrs. Rupa Mehra, a mother searching for a suitable boy for her daughter. Arun, Savita, Varun and Lata - Mrs. Mehra's four children. Arun is married to Meenakshi Chatterji, Savita to Pran Kapoor.
Lata - Mrs. Rupa Mehra's youngest child. A large portion of the novel as well as the title describes her mother's determination to marry Lata off to "a suitable boy."
2) The Kapoors - Mr. Mahesh Kapoor, Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor and their 3 children Veena, Pran and Maan.
3) The Khans - Nawab Sahib of Baitar and his 3 children Zainab, Imtiaz and Firoz.
4) The Chatterjis - Mr. Justice Chatterji and Mrs. Chatterji and their children Amit, Meenakshi (married to Arun Mehra), Dipankar, Kakoli and Tapan...
The only negative point one can make regarding this novel is its length and the many passages of detailed descriptions about the politics of 1950's India.These details could have been trimmed down, as it takes one away from the main story.But it does give the reader an insight into the turmoil that India was going through, not knowing how to handle the newly gotten Freedom..
However,You will not regret buying this novel....it is definitely worth a read
After recently reading Vikram Seth's novel I would definately recommend it to other readers.
It does take some time to get into the storyline but once you get to grips with it it's very in depth and you almost feel as if you know the characters involved. If you are someone who has been in love you can understand Lata's feelings for the gorgeous and thrilling Kabir as well as sympathising with the lovestruck Maan.
I found the only let down to the book was sometimes the overcomplicated references to India's court and government. Although it didn't stop the underlying story being gripping and full of emotion, there are parts to make you both laugh and cry.
Overall a great novel. well worth the effort it sometimes takes to read.
This book tells the story of a girl who is looking for a husband is post-independence India. Yet it is also a political book, charting and explaining the career of another character. There are other narratives I do not have space to describe. These narratives intertwine and separate with all the drama and ordinariness of life. It is the most daring attempt since Ulysses to show human life in all its glory and complexity. In short it shows the entire country in full. A point often missed in analysing this book is that in places is it actually very witty and funny. Indeed several of the characters sole purposes are to be laughed at and mocked. Some of the verbal pyrotechnics employed are masterful as well, such as when the poet writes an exquisate acrostic poem (the best one I have ever seen). It is flashes such as this that remind you why Seth was able to write a verse novel (The Golden Gate). As this is the longest continuous work of fiction in the English language I have attempted to distil it down into as few words as possible, so as to make the contrast with its broad and magisterial sweep. This is a gripping and awesome book (in every sense of the word).