Isabelle's Reviews > A Suitable Boy

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
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's review
Mar 06, 11

Read in March, 2011

Well, I finally got through the 1400+ pages of the book! It was such an engrossing novel, a fun read! Think Bollywood meets Jane Austen, and you have it!

The setting for the novel is post-partition India, a nation in turmoil, politically, racially and culturally, which plays a prevalent part in the novel and actually gives it some depth.
Then there is the very simple premise of the book: a widowed mother of 4 adult children is on a mission to find a "suitable boy" for her youngest daughter to marry. This leads us to get to know several families quite well and to see them through joyful times such as births, weddings and promotions but also through times of sorrow caused by death, lies, violence, betrayal etc... There are no villains in this novel, just people trying to live life on life's terms in an effervescent environment.

The novel is abundant in character study (there are so many characters to begin with), but there is no doubt in my mind that the main character of the novel is India itself, with its beautiful city gardens, its welcoming farms, its secular splendor and its incredible poverty. I was fascinated by all those contradictions that rub against one another: the endearing imagination and zaniness of the very same people who yet believe in and perpetuate the caste abominations, the great richness of cultures which cohabit until two festivals collide and turn into a blood bath, the Maharajahs and courtesans of the most shockingly "feudal"ilk, whose paths intersect with that of forward thinking politicians, enlightened academics and legal pundits.

For some reason, I keep thinking of one of the subplots of the novel: a very uncouth and despicable Maharajah, of antiquated power but very real fortune, is financing the construction of a brand new temple to be built right next to the mosque. The inner sanctum of the temple is to house a massive Shiva Linga so that the Muslim faithful will end up facing a gigantic phallus when they turn towards Mecca to pray...
But God is righteous and great, and the Linga will not allow itself to be part of that shameless provocation!!! More such delightful treats await in the novel!!!

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