Monday, October 13, 2008

A Suitable Book

... it is, to have in your library - and to read at least once, if not many times. (If not for the size of the book, I would have read it again right after I finished it.) Ok, and the book is.. of coure, A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth.

This book has never been recommended to me. (It hasn't been dis-recommended either. It's just that I haven't heard any reviews about the book). I have just heard about it, and on an impulse, I picked it up a few months ago. And am I glad I did!

Because, never have I read a book that is so vast, teeming with characters, brimming with stories, involving so many people, so many events, and so much of everything. And in spite of being about 1400 pages long, there is never a boring moment. In fact, if not for my other commitments, I would have liked to sit down and read it at one go.

There are many striking and unique things about the book.

For one, it is like a banyan tree, as one of the characters in the book talks about his own book. It starts from one person, and then branches out to talk about his/her family, then branches out from the family to talk about their friends, acquaintances, their extended family, and so on.... until you have a vast canopy of people you seem to know.

In spite of there being hundreds of characters in the book, you don't get confused when a character suddenly appears out of context. This must be because every character is very well-etched, very memorable.

In spite of it being such a long story, with the characters going through many joys and tribulations, their essential character remains constant right from the beginning of the book up to the end. For example, How Mrs.Rupa Mehra is behaving at the wedding at the beginning of the book is exactly the way she is behaving at the wedding at the end of the book.

I had to go to Mysore for 3-4 weeks in between, and I thought that lugging along such a heavy book was impractical, and so I left it in Bangalore. One week into Mysore, and I was actually missing the characters! What might Maan be up to? What could Lata have decided? - I found myself thinking. The characters really get to you. Then there was this other time when I actually found myself thinking, hmmm.. "this happened in the fifties... I wonder if any of them are alive now." I had actually started believing it is a true story!

And along with attachment to the characters, come tears, of course. I found myself weeping quite a bit reading the book. I have noticed that tears come more easily when I read nowadays. Has it got something to do with being a mom? Or is it that I have started understanding people and situations better, and I empathize with them more? I don't know.

The book is liberally sprinkled with delightful alliterations, and excellent use of metaphors and other figures of speech that I can't even name. It makes the reading experience totally enjoyable.

There is generous use of sarcasm and irony - which lend a touch of humour throughout. All the follies and weaknesses of the characters are dealt with almost with love. It makes you laugh and love the characters in spite of everything.

It is not easy to get into the shoes of the other sex, and write accurately about their thought processes. But Vikram Seth has done just that.

His attention to details is quite mind-blowing.

And there are other small matters that matter. For example, Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor, who is a silent, shy lady, always in the shadow of her politician husband. Though she is such a major character, not once is her name mentioned. She is always Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor - perhaps an indication of the life she lives.

And then the most remarkable thing of all - Vikram Seth writes with amazing authority and familiarity about all and varied matters, like religion, caste, beliefs, law, politics, music, literature, shoemaking, sensibilities, social graces, psychology, lifestyle - everything. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of effort that has gone into writing this book!

And what is a book review without casting a few doubts? The social circles that Meenakshi and Arun Mehra interact with - was it really like that in those early fifties? Backless cholis? Dancing freely with the opposite sex? Affairs? And forget all that.... Lata and Malati interacting so free with the boys in their college? Really?

Anyway, I am sure I am missing a lot of things, but on the whole, it was a thoroughly enjoyable book. Sometimes, I read it standing up, bending down, with one eye on the stove, you know - things like that, just because I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. I don't have to mention that I am really upset that the book is over. I now need to recuperate for a few days before I start the next book.

And in the wedding at the end of the book, Mrs. Rupa Mehra tells Varun Mehra that she will find a suitable girl for him. Mr. Vikram Seth, I for one, will not be averse to another "wrist-spraining, purse-straining" book of the same kind - A Suitable Girl.


Devaki said...

I was delighted to see your post early in the morning Shruthi - you just made my day! This is one of my favoritest books ever and I feel so sad when folks find it boring... they don't know what they are missing.

I loved your review too. Kept nodding my head at every point you made! I always wondered about Meenakshi too... she is a deliciously wicked character!

And lets both of us write Mr. Vikram Seth pleading for Suitable Girl, what say? :)

Mama - Mia said...

i quite liked the book too! i loved the way Seth managed to tie all the ends propahly!

and funnily those days were lot more tolerant about skin show and opp sex mingling! it somehwere around 670's i think when things must have changed! :)

great review!



Raj said...

Hey, I like the way this sentence is constructed : "Because, never have I read a book that is so vast, teeming with characters, brimming with stories, involving so many people, so many events, and so much of everything"

Anonymous said...

Thank god, no spoilers in the post. I am currently reading the book.

My friends still laugh at me wondering when I will finish the book, considering its volume, amd me trying to read atleast two pages a day..:)

Adu said...

Oh! I love this book too! About the accuracy of the portrayal ("was it really like that in the 50s?"), maybe it depends on where in India? Also, I think while there might have been considerable freedom in certain respects, there wuz on average less freedom in others (e.g., choice of partner for marriage). But yeah, it does seem like something of a magical time.

Also, who do you feel/wish L should have ended up with? Tell me in some cryptic way, if you can, so as not to give away any spoilers :)

Indian Home Maker said...

Here through Blog Bharti, loved your review of a favourite book.
I think the rich and the sophisticated were like the rhyming siblings, though he might have exaggerated.
I missed the characters when the book finished, like you did. And I loved Maan's stay in his father's constituency, his popularity and his natural tact.
Just think how many issues he touched upon, the rikshaw driver's extortion, the shoe makers, our religious beliefs, and the story of that creepy Raja (I forget this name, the one who was compared to a buffalo), and the way his effort to create conflict ends.
And the friendship of the Nawab's sons and Maan. You are left with a warm feeling in the end.

panikp said...

you can start reviewing the books this is also one assignment which can come continuosuly to you from some magazines once your reviews start getting published. your review or post is wonderful and very fact that it has taken you into real life like thing is the greatest strength of the book. must read if i get one I will certainly read let me make a try all the best

rajk said...

I'm glad you wrote about this book because I had a doubt that I'd like cleared. Has anyone read this book in parts? I read A Suitable Boy many years back and I don't remember it being 1400 pages long. However I do remember it ending very abruptly and I kept checking if there were some last pages torn or if there was a sequel to it...but never found any!!
Please clear my confusion anyone!!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.....Good post shruti...Infact, the way you have reviewed is really cool...I seriously liked it...Keep the good work going...

M S Raghunandan said...

iwish i could explain a book that i have read, so analytically and appealingly. forget about suitable boy, i like your writing about it.

Shruthi said...

Devaki: High-five! Ooooh I love the Chatterjees, including Meenakshi - how I love to hate her!

Abha: Thank you! But skin show is not that apparent in the movies of the fifties, is it? Or am I wrong?

Raj: Thank you!

Anu: But its worth it, isn't it? :)

Adu: Well, I wanted her to marry one of them because of the matters of the heart, the second for the comfort level, and the third for the sheer practicality of all. So I guess I didn't really have a favourite :D

Indian homemaker: I absolutely agree. Firoz's and the Nawabsahib's gesture at the end is so heartwarming. And that is the Raja of Marh! (What a wonderfully hate-able character! :))

Panikp: Thank you!

Rajk: Did it end with Lata feeding monkeys musambi? If yes, then that is the end - and yes, it does seem kind of strange, though I think it is meant to be symbolic. Did this help?

Sanju: Thank you!

Raghu maama: Coming from you, this is high praise indeed!

Bhupi said...

i can't imagine myself reading 1400 page book...its hard for me to even read a 14 page book....but with ur description i can fool anybody that i have read a book called A Suitable Boy :)

pumpkins mom said...

Oh I loved this book!! Got my hands on it after reading your wonderful review and truly enjoyed it.

sandhya said...

You've sold it to me, Shruthi!

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