I've finally finished it! Three months and 1474 pages of tiny print later, I can consign A Suitable Boy to my 'read' shelf on goodreads. This post will contain first a general review of the book without spoilers, then a discussion of the third section for the readalong. The discussion part will contain spoilers, so steer clear if you haven't read or finished the book yet.
A Suitable Boy is the inter-connected tale of four families in post-independence India. Although the central story is Mrs Rupa Mehra's quest to find a suitable husband for her daughter Lata, Seth's novel is more than that and is best described as a panoramic of Indian society. From racial tension to religious festivals to adultery, ambition and politics, A Suitable Boy is an epic in every sense of the word. The many individual stories are told alongside each other in nineteen parts and cover the human condition in all its forms. I enjoyed reading about Savita's journey into motherhood, Pran's struggle to become an academic, the Nawab Sahib's bewilderment as the world he knew disappeared and the eccentric Chatterji family, who were more liberal and liked to speak in couplets.
If you have the time to invest in it, A Suitable Boy is a very rewarding book. For me, it's up there with Gone with the Wind and Anna Karenina as a book that I will always remember. Lata and the cast of characters feel like members of my friends and family; two days after putting this book down for good, I'm missing them. Towards the end of the book when things start to happen and events get resolved, I was emotionally invested in the outcome each character would have. Seth made me connect with each one (even if I didn't like them all) and I have a clear visualisation of what each character is about, which is not easy to pull off. It felt almost like the book got into my soul.
As the scope of Suitable Boy is so broad, there's guaranteed to be something in it for each reader. I'm a fan of multiple perspective books anyway and the rapid shifting between points of view stopped this long book from becoming tedious to read. I'm in utter awe at the way Seth managed to wind all of his characters and events together without losing the impact of the story. There are some plot points not resolved by the end and everything doesn't tie up nicely, but then it's not the kind of book where everything would. A Suitable Boy does require an investment of time and effort but most definitely repays anything you put into it.
Discussion - Part Three (Spoilers):
I had mentioned in my review of Part Two that events were dragging and the book was becoming a bit of a slog - not so in Part Three! Suddenly everything seemed to be happening at once and the pace was whirlwind by the last two or three hundred pages.
The main event was clearly Lata's marriage to Haresh. I must admit to being disappointed with her choice, especially as it seemed to be one so clearly based on the head rather than the heart. My opinions conicided with Malati's, who felt that Lata had turned down the gold and silver prize in order to settle for the bronze. Whilst I agree that she could never have married Kabir, much as I liked him (the attitude of her family would have made their life very difficult), I had a soft spot for Amit. There's one section where Lata is thinking about his poems and Seth writes something like 'they were already a part of her, without her knowing it'; from that point on I was rooting for Amit. Lata's reasoning sold Amit short; I didn't find him selfish or demanding at all. Besides, if anyone proposed to me with a beautifully written poem like that, I would certainly accept! Haresh seemed very drab and unispiring compared to her other choices and it felt like Lata had chosen sensibly rather than for happiness.
Religious tension was a theme throughout the whole book but it was really hammered home in this section with both the stampede at the Hindu event and the clashes between Hindus and Muslims when their festivals coincided. I feel like Seth must feel strongly about clashes like this, as the sections dealing with them were powerfully written. A message of the whole book seemed to be how futile religious quarrels are. I didn't expect events with Maan to take the turn they did, especially after he saved Firoz earlier in the story. But I saw a different side to him and to Mahesh and this made me appreciate their characters more.
The third part was my favourite of the three, mainly as so much happened and the pace was brisk. I'm still reflecting on all the events and looking forward to the release of A Suitable Girl sometime in 2013, that follows Lata's search for a wife for her grandson eighty years after the events of Suitable Boy. I hope Seth is on track and the book gets published on time.
Thanks to all the readalong participants for giving me the motivation to finally tackle this book; it had sat on my shelf for years prior to this. I'm glad I finally got the chance to read and enjoy it.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1993
My Edition: Phoenix books UK, 1993 (purchased second hand)
Score: 5 out of 5