A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

#20 in my 2007 book challenge was the 1474-page A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.

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. (p. 1371-2)

My friend Thalia recommended A Suitable Boy to me to me at least a decade ago; it was so huge that I couldn’t work up the gumption even to buy it. But since Thalia was instrumental in helping me realize a recent three-week vacation (more on this, soon), I figured it was past time to honor her recommendation.

A Suitable Boy centers on a number several families and their criss-crossing lives. It’s set in post-Gandhi India. Family ties, and the tension between the Muslim and Hindu citizens of the newly independent country are two of the many themes that structure this complex, enriching and satisfying novel. I not only enjoyed the experience of reading ASB, but I also learned a great deal about a critical juncture in India’s history.

I also acquired an appreciation for the practice of bringing only one very long book on vacation. It allowed me a deep, focused reading experience and helped to situate me in a simple, relaxing, few-decisions-to-make, one-thing-at-a-time groove. All my reading life, I’ve fretted over what and how much reading material to bring on trips. I did the one-big-book-for-vacation thing once before, with Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, and had a similarly joyous reading experience. It takes some care, and some trust in the recommender, to choose the book. But it’s low risk, since bookstores, and other book sources (like informal resort libraries, personal collections, or other reading vacationers who are happy to pass on their just-read items) are often at hand. For my next trip, I’m considering Middlemarch, Mansfield Park, Bleak House and Anna Karenina.

8 Responses to “A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth”

  1. carolyn Says:

    i loved ‘a suitable boy’ as well!! but it was many years ago now that i read it. i didn’t like seth’s follow-up books as much, they just didn’t form the same kind of emotional connections.

  2. girldetective Says:

    I felt he did a great job of making the characters so real that it felt as if I did know them. I became emotionally invested with all of them, and was so surprised by the suitable boy that Lata married at the end. It was as if Lizzie Bennet married Mr. Collins, albeit a more complex and sympathetic Mr. Collins.

  3. Kate Says:

    I read Mansfield Park this last winter and didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started. I’ll be curious to see what you think about it, when you get to it.

    I ultimately enjoyed it, but for someone who is used to reading books very, very quickly (including other Austen novels), there was an initial shock when I realized this was a far larger investment than I originally planned.

  4. Carrie (Reading to Know) Says:

    I (*gulp*) have never heard of it. But it sounds interesting and I’m going to tuck it away on my TBR list (the page numbers seem a bit daunting for this time in my life). I very much enjoyed the quote you gave at the beginning of your post. I concur!

  5. Laura Says:

    I loved that book! The socio-political commentary intertwined with a boy-meets-girl-romance story reminded me of Anthony Trollope’s novels. As to the other books you’re considering, I heartily recommend them all, save Anna Karenina, and that only because I haven’t read it yet - but I plan to!

  6. girldetective Says:

    Carrie, if you liked the quote, you’d likely like the book. I really do recommend it.

    Kate, I brought Mansfield Park on my current trip, and am surprised and somewhat peeved by the slow progress I’m making. I am very much enjoying it, though, and find it dark and complex, and thus unlike Emma and Pride and Prejudice. I think Austen was pushing her authorial envelope, and I am interested to explore how it fits into the Austen canon as soon as I’m done.

    All those others will have to wait. Next I’m re-reading Eat Pray Love for a book group, and I think I’ll do Lionel Shriver’s The Post Birthday World after that. I brought both those on my current trip, but I think MP is going to be it for me.

  7. carolyn Says:

    the more i reflect on ‘post birthday world’ the less i liked it (and the less i think my high expectations were to blame). jessica jernigan (if you read her site?) didn’t like it either.

  8. girldetective Says:

    C, Post Birthday World has been pushed to the back of the line for now. Too many books crowding for attention, first of which is HP7.