Saturday, 27 September 2008
Ihave always wanted to read this book but have been put off by the sheer size of it. ‘A Suitable Boy’, at 1474 pages and 591,552 words, is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language. It is written by VIKRAM SETH and was published in 1994. A Suitable Boy is set in post-independence India and the remnants of life under the British rule. The British glory is still very much evident in the book.
The novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months as a mother, Mrs Rupa Mehra (whose sole aim is to take care of her family) searches for “a suitable boy” to marry her youngest daughter Lata.
Lata is of marriageable age and is an independent and rebellious (to a point) girl who is already in “love” with a Muslim boy much to the horror of her mother. Although Mrs Mehra seems open minded about the caste of her future son-in-law (within some boundaries, of course), she is horrified that her daughter might marry a Muslim boy and bring shame to the family. However Lata is determined to write her own fate and will not be influenced by her mother or her snobbish brother Arun. Her story evolves around the choices she has to make between her three suitors, Kabir (her Muslim college mate), Amit (her sister-in-law’s poet brother) and Haresh (an ambitious and hard working ‘executive’ in a shoe factory).
The book is not only about Mrs Mehra’s quest – it also examines the journey of Mrs Mehra’s other children and in-laws and those people that happen to cross her path in their life’s journeys. It also examines the political atmosphere in India, leading to her first post-Independence election of 1952. It touches on inter racial marriages, courtesans, inter sectarian animosity, land reforms, caste system, feudal system, status issues, politics in the education systems and family issues. Even diction gets quite a mention!
The book is set in the fictional town of Brahmpur, with travels along real Indian towns such as Calcutta, Delhi, Kanpur (Cawnpore as Haresh would pronounce it – you will understand why I highlighted this fact when and if you read the book) and other Indian cities.
I really, really enjoyed this novel and Mr G ‘enjoyed’ me reading this book because whilst I was engrossed in it, I did not annoy him with additional work around the house. He said he enjoyed the peace and quiet the book afforded him! :(
My only grievance is the length of the book and the lack of hours I had to read it. It frustrated me that I had to put the book down to cook, work and sleep. But this book is worth the read and to support this, it has been on the ‘Angus and Robertson Top 100’ books since the late 90’s. It is now entrenched as one of my favourite books. To those of you who are up to the challenge, you won’t be disappointed. Happy reading!