A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Book Review by Verity Davis

There are very few books on my shelf that have held the power to make me simply flip back to the beginning on finishing that almighty final paragraph, perhaps a Jane Austen or even a Harry Potter book; the third to be exact.

Yet there was something about Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ that I just couldn’t quite move away from. Its 1400-odd pages are laced with an involving tangle of narratives – from the joy and torment of love, to the conflicts and changes of government policies and power. Not to mention the historical richness and complexity of a newly independent India as well.

At its heart, ‘A Suitable Boy’ is a love story. We follow the journey of Lata and her widowed mother striving to find a husband in a cultural context where romantic affection and familiar obligation continuously collide. Woven around the core however is the structure of four deeply intertwined families, each bearing a handful of subplots through Seth’s effortless characterization of love, literature, religion, rebellion, law, medicine, family, friendship, poetry, deceit, celebrations, music, tragedies, abuse, reunion…

Oh, I could go on!

However, for such a vastly complex, intensely engaging novel Seth’s language and tone remains frank, wry and almost slightly detached from the first page to the last. He allows his characters to carry the narrative, crafting their opinions and personal growth into 19 sections of prose and verse. Yet behind this simplistic, eminently readable surface is an undercurrent of emotive energy, drawing us into a world both undiscovered and familiar.

It isn’t possible to fully summarise this book in a few paragraphs. I can only recommend it as an unforgettable read. Yes, it is long – and its length (and weight) could be off-putting. But for a book so deeply moving and culturally enriching, I’d say its one worth the investment of a little time.

A Suitable Boy, front cover.


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