December 13, 2016

A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth | Spoiler Free

*All Book Reviews on this blog are spoiler free.*

"They talk a great deal about family honour, but they have no sense of honour except to gratify the promises of pleasure they have made to themselves." - Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy.

When my English literature professor mentioned Vikram Seth earlier in the semester, it was like remembering a childhood TV show. I recalled him in bits and pieces, from 9th standard when I was first introduced to him via ‘The Frog and the Nightingale’. But while he had established himself as a poet in my heart long back, my love for the novelist in him came later, with the final pages of A Suitable Boy.

A Suitable Boy is like a wedding cake – layered, rich and overfilling. Set in the 1950s, it gives us a glimpse of the infant India, learning to walk under Nehru’s watch and it shows the life of Lata, our protagonist, who goes from baby steps to tall strides.

Lata, a teenager from a middle-class family with a mother who can give Austen’s Mrs Bennet a run for her money, takes her first steps on the path to love and marriage through these pages. Tensions and emotions run high when Lata, a Hindu girl falls in love with Kabir, a Muslim boy. In order to put an end to this affair, her mother sets her up to be married. At its heart, A Suitable Boy is her coming of age story. With an extended family spanning the spectrum of the Indian society, from the elitist Chatterjis to the grounded Kapoors, it swallows nearly four families in its narration. It has plenty of characters, but even more facets to it. It has stitches of history, socio - culture, politics, ideology and fiction weaved into its fabric.

The storm surrounding Lata’s love life is that of the zamindars and landless labourers, and the zamindari act; of Hindus and Muslims and Hindu-Muslim friendships in the face of a communal agitation; of science and religion and history and literature. This book is a juxtaposition of the personal and the political, the individual and the collective. 

But the complexity of the plot isn’t a nod at the language. His writing remains accessible and easy to read, while thoroughly peppered with verses. And with Vikram Seth, of The Golden Gate fame, steering this ship, verses are to be expected. 

There are times when A Suitable Boy is too much - too complex, too winding, too many characters, too thick but if there is one thing it is not, it's too long. Towards the end, you wish it would go on for a couple more pages but over the course of the book, Seth gives you so much that you don’t want more. Starting with a wedding and ending with a wedding, the book comes a full circle and leaves you grateful for all that it shares.

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