Century of Books

My project to read the top 100 English-language books of the twentieth century.

Location: San Francisco, United States

I am an Australian writer and blogger living in San Francisco. Visit my professional site at caitlinfitzsimmons.com, or my travel and food blog at Roaming Tales or my personal blog at The Niltiac Files. I am also on Twitter as @niltiac. See the full list of books or visit me on BookCrossing.

19 July 2006

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

I have tamed the beast! 1474 pages and I am done. Woo hoo!

A Suitable Boy was definitely worth the effort. I already admired Seth for An Equal Music and in this, very different, book he doesn't let me down.

I enjoyed it from the beginning, although it is true that it was slow to begin with. Over the course of the novel, the characters seeped into my consciousness and came to life. By the end it had the familiarity and comfort of a long-running soap opera and I cared deeply for Lata and Maan and their families - the Mehras, the Chatterjis, the Kapoors - and friends. Without spoiling the plot, suffice it to say this made certain events in the novel quite heartbreaking.

Yet this is as much the story of India as it is of the characters in this book. It is set in the early 1950s, after independence and during the time of the first general election and it reveals all the richness and ructions of the fledgling nation, its prejudices and norms. It is a time of arranged marriages, frictions between Hindu and Muslim, colourful religious festivals, stifling snobbery, and great joy in life. It makes me more keen than ever to visit India.

The central theme, as the title suggests, is love and marriage. Next are the wider social and political themes of religious tolerance and intolerance, class consciousness from the poverty of the bonded labourers to the Anglophile snobbery still so prevalent in post-colonial India, and the struggle for independence and democracy.

Interestingly and less obviously, music is an important theme, though it less obviously so than in An Equal Music. There is a passage early in the book (by the book's standards this could be anywhere in the first 700 pages!) where Seth articulates the nature of Indian music, how it introduces themes and returns to them and expands on them, until it builds a coherent whole. Unfortunately, I didn't mark out the passage and it would take some time to find but it is quite clear that this explanation also serves as an exposition of the structure of the novel itself. Music is certainly a recurring motif, with the constant singing of raags and especially with several of the characters who are either musicians or patrons of music.

34 down, 66 to go... (That's nine so far this year and this book probably accounted for a good proportion of the pages).

This copy was from BookCrossing - see all journal entries here.


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