Book Review – A Suitable Boy (yes, I finally finished it!)

I would normally do a weekend wrap post today, but other than spending hours in the garden I didn’t do anything.  I will do a garden update post later in the week once I’ve taken some photos because we’re starting to get to that interesting time of year when everything is gearing up for new plants, winter crops are coming to an end, early spring ones are just starting to bare fruit, and planning is happening for summer crops.  But like I said I’ll leave that for another day, today’s post is a monumental one, I finally finished Vikram Seth’s monster, nearly 1500 page A Suitable Boy and now it’s time to share me thoughts on it.

For a start I will say that I’ve had this weighty number on my bookshelf for quite a while, I started it twice before but was overwhelmed by the size and put it down again so I am thrilled that this time I did manage to get all the way through it…. but it took me six months. However I did read a couple of other books in that time when my motivation was waning and my interest fading.  Don’t get me wrong I did enjoy the story a lot, but I did find I needed a break every now and again (usually something I had already read and knew would be a quick easy read).

So what’s it about, according to the back of the book it’s a love story, but so much more.  For a start it’s set in India just after independence so the historic context is fascinating (if you’re into that sort of thing) and there are several chapters that revolve around the political complexities of a newly established parliamentary system and one particular Minister.  Secondly, like almost all Indian novels I’ve read, this one centres around family, not your standard western-style nuclear family, but the convoluted and all-encompassing extended family, including in-laws families and even in-laws of in-laws to the point where there are a series of family trees at the start of the books so you can work out who fits where.

But at the heart of the story is Lata, a young dynamic university student, and her journey (and that of her somewhat hysterical mother) to find a ‘suitable boy’ to marry.  She is a reluctant passenger at first, but that changes when she meets a ‘boy’ – Kiabir – that she is instantly attracted to.  Kabir isn’t the only suitor (and certainly not her mother’s choice) after prime place in Lata’s affections, Amit and Haresh are also in contention, and as she gets to know each one her ‘choice’ becomes increasingly more difficult.  That is essentially the storyline, but as you can imagine for a book of this length, there are many, many subplots going on at the same time.

I’ve read quite a few novels set in India and/or written by Indian writers in recent years and several have had this web of interwoven storylines.  They do test your attention at times, trying to fit all the pieces together, but they also reveal just how connected Indian families are to each other and how central family is to their society.  A Suitable Boy was written from a number of different perspectives, each chapter taking the view of a particular character, often returning to that character several times.  This helped keep the book interesting, but I did find I warmed to some characters much more than others, and some just downright annoyed me.

So after six months of reading, what’s my verdict… I’m in two minds.  I did love the story of Lata and of the boys she ultimately has to choose between.  Kabir is gorgeous, Amit intriguing and Haresh sweet and thoughtful but a little eccentric.  On the other hand I did find I lost interest on some of the less relevant subplots (like Amit’s brother’s journey of self-discovery through religion) and the politics did wear a bit thin chapter after chapter – I confess I may have skimmed and skip over it a bit towards the end of these chapters.  Overall it was a delightful read if you can stick with it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.  One thing that did please me was that unlike many other books set in India this one wasn’t depressingly tragic.  I don’t think I could have coped with it if it was.

And there you have it. Done.  Now onto something shorter.

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6 Responses to Book Review – A Suitable Boy (yes, I finally finished it!)

  1. I’ve been overwhelmed by the size of this book too – it sits on my shelf, mocking me, making me feel guilty and less than for not attempting it. Maybe this is the year I finally pick it up. Though I’m worried about possible suffocation if I fall asleep while reading in bed..

  2. Patsy says:

    Wow, so amazing that you posted this now! I just loaned my copy out two days ago! It had been sitting among my books to read for ages and ages and it was the length that has put me off starting it. When a friend mentioned she likes books set in India, I loaned it to her. She seemed excited despite the length, but I’m thinking it’ll be awhile before I see it again, but I still don’t know when I’ll have the impetus to tackle it!

  3. I haven’t read this one, but I do like an Indian setting for a book. (Have you read Shantaram? Another lengthy Indian one.)
    Realistically at the moment though it will probably be awhile before I read something like that again. It seems a challenge to get through the paper at the moment… eek.

  4. Liz says:

    Yay! Glad you finished and I hope you are too…. If you are looking for a much shorter, funny and I think very entertaining book set in India then Kiran Desai’s first novel – Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard is definitely worth a look.

  5. angel perez says:

    i have this book at home but i would really like to find and electronic version… if anyone can help out?? thanks

  6. Pingback: A review of 2012 | The New Good Life

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