A group of us have been reading Vikram Seth's monumental epic, A Suitable Boy, over three months. Today is the end of month two so it's time to check in again (you can find my part one post here). I have to start this post with a confession; we were supposed to read up to page 1032, finishing chapter 13.28, but I've only managed to get up to page 837, making me about two hundred pages short. I blame work but fully intend to catch up so I finish the read-along on time. There will be spoilers in this post.
As much as I loved the first third of the book, I've found this middle section a bit of a slog. Lots of my favourite characters (the Chatterjis, Pran & Savita and even Lata to a certain extent) take a back seat to newer characters that I didn't find as engaging. Maan Kapoor, the son of an eminent politician, is sent into the countryside with his Urdu teacher to get him away from a relationship with a known courtesan. Although the setting is described in lush vocabulary by Seth the narrative gets caught up in village politics and land ownership and this made it hard for me to get through it. I wanted to know more about Rasheed's wife, not what Rasheed was doing to transfer his father's land to the peasants that had worked on it for years.
Politics is very much a strong theme throughout this section. The Zamindari Act, that would remove land from hereditary landowners, is being challenged in the High Court. I do find this bit of politics interesting but every discussion and debate is reported on in the book and the resolution, when it finally comes, is a bit of an anti-climax. Again, I think Seth misses a trick but not showing us human rather than political reactions to the bill.
The search for a husband for Lata does continue in this third of the book, with a new suitor, shoemaker Haresh. I like Haresh despite his all-encompassing ambition, which Seth gently pokes fun at (he carries his certificates around at all times), but he's not as interesting as Kabir or Amit Chatterji. Although Rupa Mehra is there and still continues to make outrageous remarks, the humour in this part of the book is a bit less.
Events turn more serious when administrative incompetence at a busy religious festival by the river Ganges leads to thousands being crushed to death. These sections had me glued to the book as some of my favourite characters were involved. Despite my complaints above, I'm still enjoying the book and still think Seth's writing is wonderful, deceptively simple. I hope events pick up pace as we move into the last third of the book (600 pages to go!).
How is everyone else getting on? Have you found this section of the book a slog too?