By the time I got to the end, I wanted to throw this book across the room, but by then I was exhausted The book was too heavy to lift and heave properly, so I slapped the paperback covers with as much derision as I could manage.This is the longest book I ve ever read It s the world s 17th longest novel Longer than Infinite Jest Longer than War and Peace.You d think they d give me some sort of prize for reading all that But what do I get instead view spoiler I get THAT ending Some review By the time I got to the end, I wanted to throw this book across the room, but by then I was exhausted The book was too heavy to lift and heave properly, so I slapped the paperback covers with as much derision as I could manage.This is the longest book I ve ever read It s the world s 17th longest novel Longer than Infinite Jest Longer than War and Peace.You d think they d give me some sort of prize for reading all that But what do I get instead view spoiler I get THAT ending Some reviewers congratulate Vikram Seth for not indulging the romantic notions of readers who want a happy ending for his two star crossed lovers That elevates A Suitable Boy above tawdry romance novels The thing is, if I read a whole book only to have the heroine choose the easy, boring choice, that is not a story That is just someone doing the obvious, pedestrian things we go through every day I stuck with this story for 1500 pages because I wanted to see how the girl would end up with the perfect but tragically unsuitable boy And she didn t I am so annoyed and heartbroken hide spoiler I was all set to give this book four stars The boring parts hundreds of pages of boring parts would be forgiven because the good parts were so good Ugh But then I began turning those last pages with a sick, disgusted, wretched feeling That cost the book twostars Now that I m finished I have to keep telling myself it s not real It s only a story So then I should probably add a star back on because if it made me feel that emotional about it, that is effective On some level Not the best level, but I guess you can t have everything I don t even know where to begin gushing about this one, so panoramic is its scope and so delightful its literary charms Vikram Seth s 800,000 word magnum opus is lengthier than War and Peace andcompulsively readable than a well paced soap opera It is an event in one s life I call it a soap opera, because fundamentally, the plot is a family drama, revolving around the wooers of its principal character, Lata Mehra Set in the early 1950s and written with a forceful simplicity akin to R K I don t even know where to begin gushing about this one, so panoramic is its scope and so delightful its literary charms Vikram Seth s 800,000 word magnum opus is lengthier than War and Peace andcompulsively readable than a well paced soap opera It is an event in one s life I call it a soap opera, because fundamentally, the plot is a family drama, revolving around the wooers of its principal character, Lata Mehra Set in the early 1950s and written with a forceful simplicity akin to R K Narayan, it covers 18 months in the entwined lives of four families the Mehras, Kapoors, Chatterjis, and Khans and through these characters proffers an intricate peek into a most fascinating and neglected period in Indian history It is an uncertain era the subcontinent has been Partitioned on religious grounds and India is making its wobbly transition from feudalism to democracy The First Great General Elections are to be held in 1952 and the central legislative event is the abolition of the oppressive zamindari system, and with it, an entire way of life courtesans, Hindustani classical musicians and purana khidmatgars Caste is beginning to make itself felt in electoral calculations, and Nehru remains a force to be reckoned with On this level, A Suitable Boy is painstakingly researched historical fiction Seth writes with a level of detail that is unreal As one reviewer notes, he writes with the omniscience and authority of a large, orderly committee of experts on Indian politics, law, medicine, crowd psychology, urban and rural social customs, dress, cuisine, horticulture, funerary rites, cricket and even the technicalities of shoe manufacture A Suitable Boy is undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements of world literature and will remain one of my all time favourites I feel lucky to have read it at this point in time since I can t wait for its sequel coming out next year, the appropriately titled A Suitable Girl.EDIT It s been over four years since I wrote this review Seth still hasn t finished A Suitable Girl, though I m pretty sure it s going to be worth the wait I know some GR ers didn t really cotton on to the style of this book And maybe it was because I read this while on vacation in India itself, but wow Just W.O.W It s a fucking long book 1,500 pages And every single page was worth the time I spent on it andIf Midnight s Children is India s One Hundred Years of Solitude, then A Suitable Boy must be its War and Peace It s got the same melding of personal lives seen in amidst great national events Instead of the romance of Natasha and Pi I know some GR ers didn t really cotton on to the style of this book And maybe it was because I read this while on vacation in India itself, but wow Just W.O.W It s a fucking long book 1,500 pages And every single page was worth the time I spent on it andIf Midnight s Children is India s One Hundred Years of Solitude, then A Suitable Boy must be its War and Peace It s got the same melding of personal lives seen in amidst great national events Instead of the romance of Natasha and Pierre, it s that of Lata and her three suitors Instead of the war with France, we have the post Independence and post Partition politics of a nation searching for an identity And instead of descriptions of war, we get exchanges of heated debate on the floor of the state parliament, and the passing of a contentious bill Seth looks at the lives of four families intertwined by marriage and friendship And all the detail and it is indeed loving detail is very very necessary to immerse you in the India of the 1950s, and what it felt like to be alive then We get details of village life, life in the city, life of the different castes, business life, religious life, modern life, traditional life It s all there And it works in tandem with several great stories of love and passion, and what these mean, both at the level of family, romance, and nation Word has it that Seth is working on a follow up not sure if it s a sequel as such to be called A Suitable Girl I, for one, can t wait This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here Spoiler alert I finally finished reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth For some reason, I used to avoid picking it up and kept putting it off I suppose it was mainly the size it s one thick book approximately 1500 pages but I also think it had to do with this misconception I had that it would be a tough read, that Seth s writing would be pompous and saturated with flowery descriptions of rivers winding through the green and yellow village of GraamNagar Imagine my surprise when I find th Spoiler alert I finally finished reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth For some reason, I used to avoid picking it up and kept putting it off I suppose it was mainly the size it s one thick book approximately 1500 pages but I also think it had to do with this misconception I had that it would be a tough read, that Seth s writing would be pompous and saturated with flowery descriptions of rivers winding through the green and yellow village of GraamNagar Imagine my surprise when I find that the language is smooth, his tone light and his narrative interesting The fact that Seth managed to keep the threads of the numerous plots and subplots clear in his head is an accomplishment in itself, but evenimpressive is how each characters of his story is real they are people we recognize, with mannerisms we ve noticed in ourselves and others, and dialogues we ve heard, thought or spoken The title might suggest that it s the story of finding the perfect marriage candidate for the central character but that would be belittling the grand work that is A Suitable Boy It is the story of the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Khans, the Chatterjis and a myriad of other characters, such as Saeeda Bai and Kakoli, many of whom are fleshed out substantially, even when their appearance is minimal The beauty of the story arises from their interactions with each other, their thoughts and their ups and downs Little details that create vivid images of a decaying courtesan s world, a cosmopolitan Calcutta, the shoemakers rank as in rancid neighbourhoods and so on The story covers about a year of the characters lives, detailing the day to day mundanity Little decisions a smile here, a letter there, a glass of nimbu pani lemon water every now and then are what makes the story Yet these little decisions, these microsteps that are taken, culminate in huge changes that are noticed only in hindsight.I m probably not giving away any surprises when I say that I was thoroughly pissed off at Lata Mehra s decision to marry Haresh Khanna I shouldn t have been surprised because Lata does say in the first few pages, I always obey my mother and so the ending wasn t so much a surprise as it was a disappointment I did understand why she did it, but I couldn t help my acute disappointment in her all the same I was genuinely frustrated at her pigheadedness, her thought process that led her to this decision I was angry because I am afraid that her reasoning resonated with the coward in everyone, especially south asian girls who have had to, or will have to, at least discuss the concept of arranged marriage at some point in their lives.Ironically, her mother later suffered a number of qualms herself about whether Haresh would be the right boy for her daughter Had Lata decided against the marriage, Mrs Mehra would have been perfectly amenable, especially since Lata s yuppie brother Arun did not condone the marriage either So why did Lata decide to snub both Kabir, the Muslim she fell in love with, or Amit, the Bengali poet she could fall in love with easily Her reasoning in the last few pages was scary because it reminded me of how we would rather our lives be a smooth ride of mediocrity than a roller coaster of brilliance that plummets from time to time We choose to be mediocre ly happy the utilitarian idea that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number She says, I m not myself when I m with him Kabir I ask myself, who is this this jealous, obsessed woman.I don t want to passionately love him , I don t know want to If that s what passion means, I dont want it Once Lata makes her decision, we know that she will lead her life contently enough It upset me because I saw Lata in a number of people I know in real life, including myself Mind you, I am not advocating against arranged marriage as a whole because I know they can work Lata s sister Savita, who marries Pran after meeting him only once in front of her elders, does genuinely fall in love with him and go on to lead a happy life So it s not that arranged marriages are wrong I just felt that Lata was wrong in her decision to marry Haresh Even if he was considered fair and good looking, confident and ambitious Ironically, from Haresh s side, it s not exactly a traditional arranged marriage He arranges his nuptials himself because he doesn t like the parents getting involved in this matter his parents already know that he will run away metaphorically speaking if they try to set him up So to Haresh, this is a decision he s making by himself for his own benefit Haresh had already been in love with someone else before, had neatly folded away his Devdas romanticism for that girl and was ready now to live a contented life with someone else it just happened to be Lata He is oh so bloody honest about his feelings for this girl, and that he knows it won t ever happen and so must move on Lata wanted his practicality, his forceful ability to get things done, his willingness to help out her family members What angered me was the underlying assumption that Kabir Amit couldn t be all those things, that they would be selfish beings simply because they would also love her, and she would have to him either him back My favourite characters in the book are Amit Chatterji and Pran Kapoor I know Vikram Seth denies fashioning Amit after him, but to be honest, for some reason while I was reading about Amit s tendencies for the necessary inactivity that comes with being a writer, I thought of Seth What I liked about Amit was that he was the uber intellectual his tone was oft sardonic, his amusement frequent, his observations of people accepting and piercing He talked a lot and said very little He was cryptic in his cynicism I loved him Lata rejects him on the basis of his being high maintenance type someone who needs his meals laid out for him, who wouldn t have time for her if he was working on a novel, and whose moodswings are as frequent as her own I don t buy that completely He did make the time for her, he knew how to be charming and behave in society he wasn t an absent minded intellectual , he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get what he wants Lata was right in that he wouldn t fall apart at her rejection, but I think it s not his insensitivity that would allow him to be friends with her after her marriage, but his excessive civility, his sophistication and his writer s acceptance of life.My other favourite character, Pran Kapoor a thin, dark quiet professor is a sweetheart The kind of nice guy who doesn t begrudge his mother in law s long vacations with them, who plays April Fools Day jokes on people because those who aren t conscious of the date must take the consequences He is the ultimate good son, who quietly accepts his arranged marriage and falls in love with his wife His was the real arranged marriage, in the true sense of the word, and yet you cannot dislike him or his wife Savita because they are both so lovable people, that you just know that they were destined to be together, no matter how they got together.For those of you who haven t read it, do Trust me, I can t begin to describe the many shades there are to each character and how nothing I say will completely do justice to them I got mad at one character s one decision, not at the book Seth is amazing His voice is uninstrusive and style very graceful That s the word graceful Despite its size, you get a soft feeling reading it True it is a tad tedious at times Some of the political parts and some of the characters could have been done without But in the end, you can t get angry at someone who gives you the whole cake when all you asked for was a slice A Suitable Boy describes a year in the life of the fledgling Indian democracy, indirectly told through the experiences of four connected families and a litany of supporting characters, who, due to the diversity of their occupations and social positions, are able to explore various facets political, legal, social, cultural, religious, artistic of the India of this period, and the clash of its opposing cultural forces traditional versus modern values, religion versus secularism, Hinduism vers A Suitable Boy describes a year in the life of the fledgling Indian democracy, indirectly told through the experiences of four connected families and a litany of supporting characters, who, due to the diversity of their occupations and social positions, are able to explore various facets political, legal, social, cultural, religious, artistic of the India of this period, and the clash of its opposing cultural forces traditional versus modern values, religion versus secularism, Hinduism versus Islam, Eastern versus Western culture, and democracy versus serfdom, to name a few The titular story concerning Mrs Mehra s search for a husband for her daughter, Lata, though just one of many stories that the novel weaves together, stands out due to what it reveals about the norms and cultural prejudices of the time We see in Lata an intelligent young woman who has received a modern education, but is pressured by family and cultural expectations to take on a traditional female role While her plight is no means as bleak, I was reminded of Ishiguro s Never Let Me Go, in terms of the dissociation between education and eventual societal role In Lata s story there is a contemplation of what it means to seek happiness, an evaluation of the importance of love, of the fine balance between passion and security, of the necessary compromise of values that is thrust on an individual by their cultural context, where to either fight or relent to pressure requires in one way or another a sacrifice or self.As an outsider, I was struck by the stratification of the society, where one must be utterly obsequious to one s superiors, and trample upon those below, in order to reinforce one s status The caste system locks people into the positions they are assigned at birth, preventing social mobility In this culture status and position are everything There is a casual, internalised racism, a sensitivity to the degree of darkness of one s skin, that manifests in all sorts of interactions, from choosing a mate, to business relationships, to deciding with whom to associate There is an enormous disparity in fortunes between the wealthy and powerful, who occupy great mansions and large estates, and who are all but unreachable by the law, and the majority of the lower castes, who are forced into subservient roles, living on a pittance in utterly squalid conditions, without any hope of improving their lot To the list of Hitchens Religions That Poison Everything, let us not omit the otherwise fairly innocuous Hinduism, whose dogma of karmic rebirth provides religious justification for this horrible system of oppression There is evidence in this book of a gradual abandonment of these attitudes, which I hope has been precipitated by the last 70 years of democracy.Striking also is the extent of social and political disunity, which I m sure is in no small part due to the divide and conquer policy of the British It s amazing the extent that the British were able to transform the country in their own image in such a short time, and the degree to which many of the characters would define themselves as, or aspire to be, English The closer one dresses, speaks and acts as an Englishman, therefined he is Conversely, theIndian he appears by his accent or demeanour, the lower his standing and his desirability Though there are surely lingering benefits of British colonialism, this kind of internalised oppression seems to me to be fairly odious The India of this period is depicted as a heterogeneous multicultural society, where the religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and ideological differences constantly threaten to disrupt stability One gets a real sense of the fragility of the young Indian democracy, where there was a real possibility of failure and collapse Partition was a tragedy that affects the world to this day, but overall the enduring survival of Indian democracy through these times of turmoil has been a wonderfully fortunate benefit to the world It is easy to imagine a world where things had turned out differently.In terms of the prose, I did not enjoy Seth s bland and relentless Realism In nearly 1,500 pages, there is not a single sentence worth underlining, not a single interesting metaphor, and rarely anything resembling a profound authorial insight Instead, the story is told in a flat style of alternating description and dialogue, with the omniscient narrator jumping freely between the thoughts of the different characters This style has caused the book to be compared to some of the great works of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century, of which it is reminiscent Many people seem to like this kind of writing, but it s not my cup of tea I m rating this bookgenerously than its literary merits would seem to warrant This is a very long novel, and though it is arguable whether many sections were essential to include, on the whole it paints a thoughtful, detailed and complex picture of post independence India, with all the wonderful, as well as the disagreeable aspects of its culture Indeed, the India of Seth s novel is a land of contradictions, of inequality, of oppression, and yet of hope through the experiment of democracy If nothing else, I will miss his characters, who, though they are a little saccharine I don t disagree with Paul Bryant s assessment , are delightful companions with whom to undertake such a long journey I finished Vikram Seth s tome A Suitable Boy this Sunday morning while enjoying my coffee and a white chocolate, coconut Christmas cookie that my daughter had baked just last night All right, all right, I confess it was actually two white chocolate, coconut Christmas cookies But who can blame me really They were so good Not too sweet, she had gone ahead and reduced the suggested amount of sugar, resulting in a perfect blend of sweet with just a hint of salt and a nice moist and chewy texture I finished Vikram Seth s tome A Suitable Boy this Sunday morning while enjoying my coffee and a white chocolate, coconut Christmas cookie that my daughter had baked just last night All right, all right, I confess it was actually two white chocolate, coconut Christmas cookies But who can blame me really They were so good Not too sweet, she had gone ahead and reduced the suggested amount of sugar, resulting in a perfect blend of sweet with just a hint of salt and a nice moist and chewy texture And just the right size, one is not enough but two, hmmmmmm just right Yum yum I wish I could say that this book also displayed just the right balance Set in the early 1950 s in a newly independent India, A Suitable Boy focuses on the lives of four large families, connected by marriage or friendship, though most notably that of Lata Mehra, whose mother Mrs Rupa Mehra, is intent on conducting an agonizing hers search, that pulls in all members of her immediate and extended family, to find a suitable husband for Lata The story immerses you into the daily details of these families lives and indeed of India at that time and place No stone is left unturned and no player too insignificant to escape the authors unquestionable skill in drawing rich characterizations and beautifully imagined settings Through these people the reader is swept into a multiethnic society during an unsettling time of religious fervour and political unrest It is all here love, beauty, squalor, hatred, the caste system, prejudice, appalling violence and heart stopping tenderness For me however there was just way too much detail I really did not need to dive so deeply into the political manoeuvrings involved in passing a bill or the entire history of their philosophic or cultural rituals There was so much detail, so deeply layered into the story that it detracted from, rather than enhanced my enjoyment of it I found myself remembering John Galt s speech way too often I mean there is such a thing as too much icing on what is an already delicious cinnamon bun It is unfortunate, I believe that the editors did not cut some of that detail away, allowing the story to blossom in its own right as my daughter did with the sugar in her cookie recipe Vikram Seth s A Suitable Boy is one of the best books I ve ever read in my entire life It s a long book But it is very engaging I managed to read it in one stretch, with a break to sleep, while I awaited the movers to take me and my belongings across the country To my chagrin I had completed it before my flight, and when it finished I didn t want the book to be over, I wanted to go back and re read it from the beginning It is one of the best books about life in India I ve ever read, it is t Vikram Seth s A Suitable Boy is one of the best books I ve ever read in my entire life It s a long book But it is very engaging I managed to read it in one stretch, with a break to sleep, while I awaited the movers to take me and my belongings across the country To my chagrin I had completed it before my flight, and when it finished I didn t want the book to be over, I wanted to go back and re read it from the beginning It is one of the best books about life in India I ve ever read, it is the anti Kite Runner book There is nothing trite or stereotyped about the characterization it believably describes elements of society that are even oblique to people within the mainstream of modern Indian society the plot is not simple, nor is it a convoluted mystery story Writing this up I think I should go get it and read it again Like most of my favorite books I gave it away a long time ago I was never entirely sure who belonged to what family in this book, but it never really bothered me I mean, after we switched back to a different group of characters, I was able to reconstruct who they were related to fairly easily, but I never could hold the genealogies in my mind.Note The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook I was never entirely sure who belonged to what family in this book, but it never really bothered me I mean, after we switched back to a different group of characters, I was able to reconstruct who they were related to fairly easily, but I never could hold the genealogies in my mind.Note The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook This is a magnificent saga, which left me breathless and awaiting the next word, set in India at the beginning of the fifties Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth s epic love story set in India Funny and tragic, with engaging, brilliantly observed characters, it is as close as you can get to Dickens for the twentieth century The story unfolds through four middle class families the Mehras, Kappoors, Khans and Chatterjis Lata Mehra, a university student, is under pressure from her mother to get mar This is a magnificent saga, which left me breathless and awaiting the next word, set in India at the beginning of the fifties Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth s epic love story set in India Funny and tragic, with engaging, brilliantly observed characters, it is as close as you can get to Dickens for the twentieth century The story unfolds through four middle class families the Mehras, Kappoors, Khans and Chatterjis Lata Mehra, a university student, is under pressure from her mother to get married But not to just anyone she happens to fall in love with There are standards to be met and finding a husband for Lata becomes a family affair in which all the members are to play a part The richness of this book is remarkable What with marriage, religion, customs, etc it has been a really fascinating read for me India s caste system has four main classes also called varnas based originally on personality, profession and birth I m eternally grateful to Fionnuala for suggesting that I may perhaps like this author Do I like Vikram Seth No, of course not I just happen to adore him I think that he s absolutely splendid I get the same pleasure reading this book as when I m eating lobster or tasting a superb Burgundy wine or whatever sublime other pleasures that we have in life My I must confess that I had never heard of Seth before and I wouldn t if it hadn t been for Goodreads It s one of those remarkable books that becomes a reference book that once read, you can open it at any page and still get that continual enjoyment It s a wonderful sensation to savour It s always so difficult for me to write a review on a book that I love to death but that has been the case here This is now my second favourite fiction book after The Alexandria Quartet and I could never do that justice Bravo for the past for Durrell and for the present for Vikram Seth.In conclusion, Fionnuala and Seth thank you for giving me so much pleasure What a serendipitous find I love this book Vikram Seth s novel is, at its core, a love story Lata and her mother, Mrs Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find through love or through exacting maternal appraisal a suitable boy for Lata to marry Set in the early s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence