I was first introduced to Vikram Seth’s work when I read his poem, The Frog and The Nightingale, a few years back. The poem is a beautifully written allegory which uses personification to analyse the different aspects of human behaviour. After reading it, I really wanted to read one of his novels and A Suitable Boy was recommended to me. However, the massive length of the novel (more than 1500 pages), made me hesitant to actually start reading it and it was only a few days ago that I buckled down to read it once and for all.
I have to say that even though the book is very long, it’s an easy read. The story flows seamlessly over its 19 parts and is able to connect the reader with each one of its multifarious characters. Set in the early 1950’s, the book takes the reader to the Indian society, as it was after independence and partition.It explores the undercurrents of religious fanaticism, caste system, India’s fascination with everything english, political upheaval, women’s struggle, clash of modern thought and lifestyle with traditions held for generations in the context of daily personal and familial problems.
It’s actually commendable how well Vikram Seth has been able to explore all these different facets of the society and make us feel as if we are there experiencing the terror of a stampede, the Hindu Muslim tension, parental pressure, parental worries, the difficulty in choosing a suitable mate, the excitement of first love, societal pressures, the experience of campaigning for elections in ever-changing conditions and much more.
Vikram Seth doesn’t only explore the experiences of different people in diverse geographical situations, social strata and ages, it also explores different facets of people’s personalities.Arun’s snobbish attitude towards Indian culture, Kishan Chand’s eccentricity, Rupa Mehra’s complete devotion to family and friends, Malati’s openness to new experiences, Varun’s shyness, Kakoli’s brazenness, Aparna’s innocence, Lata’s pragmatism, Meenakshi’s selfishness, Rasheed’s commitment to social equality, Harish’s diligence, Kabir’s charm, Savita’s calm, Pran’s tenacity, Mahesh Kapoor’s hard work, Maan’s immaturity, all of this creates an interesting, tumultuous experience for the reader.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The book cannot be read completely in one or two or even five readings. By the time a person reaches the 750 mark, he’s completely forgotten the earlier chapters. It’s hard to create continuity when all we can manage is to read only a few pages at one time. This fragmented reading prevents us from fully enjoying the novel. It actually becomes a struggle to even finish the novel.
There is a lot of unnecessary information in the book. I kept on waiting to see how it all tied together in the end, but alas! I was disappointed. There was no need to write about Rasheed’s madness or Motu Chand or Ishaq Khan or Ustad Majeed Khan. I get that Vikram Seth wanted to showcase how important music and the arts were in the Indian Society but a lot of their stories were redundant to core theme of the book. Even most of the stuff with Varun’s friends or The Raja of Marh or Saeeda Bai’s lifestyle was superfluous.Just removing some of this stuff would have made it an easier read and reduced a 100 or so pages.
“But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they’re bad they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they’re good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch.”
― Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
Ironically, inspite of Vikram Seth’s sometimes humorous, sometimes fanciful and sometimes emotional writing, his above words were the exact reason for me marking the book less than a perfect 5.
My Rating: 3.5/5
You can read the preview of the book via this link: A Suitable Boy Preview