Robyn's Reviews > A Suitable Boy

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
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's review
Aug 11, 2011

it was amazing

Understandably, the first comment that anyone makes of this book is inevitably shock at the sheer size. At 1,475 pages, it is a labour of love, and there are certainly points throughout when you wonder if it will eventually be worth the time, effort, and undoubted wrist ache. I was given it at the start of my gap year, and it has taken me three years - and four countries - to finally steel myself to start reading. I worried that after so much time, and with such high expectations, it would result in disappointment, and no desire to complete the epic read it had taken me so long to begin.

To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read. Without a doubt, it has its drawbacks, most of which stem from the size; a large one of these is the fact that there are sometimes gaps of several hundred pages between meeting and revisiting a character, and you are expected to remember exactly where and when his or her tale was temporarily halted. Many of the names are also difficult to remember and associate with a certain person, especially from a Western point of view, since they are frequently ones which you may never have come across before. There are many unnecessarily long-winded and drawn-out sections, mostly conversation, which lead my mind to wander on several occasions, and when it comes time to put down the book it is often extremely difficult to make the effort to pick it up again. And certainly, I wondered with alarming regularity whether I would in fact ever reach the end.

Despite these relatively minor quibbles - and perhaps necessary evils - this book is undeniably a masterpiece. A Suitable Boy gives readers with little or no knowledge of Indian history and culture the chance to learn about this fascinating country from an intimate standpoint and many different, and highly believable, points of view. Having been lucky enough to have travelled to India before reading the book, it perhaps struck different chords than it would with someone who has never visited; but this is not to say that a newcomer to the finer details of this country would be any less able to enjoy and appreciate the world Seth has opened up, enhanced, highlighted and developed.

Seth's ultimate mastery lies within characterisation; he has a unique ability to create histories, personalities and lives for even the seemingly most inconsequential of characters. His dialogue is flawless, and effortlessly attributable to the vast numbers of people who pepper the pages. Within a few pages, you instantly care for and sympathise with each one of them, and truly feel their emotions as you follow their lives and journeys; a cliche, perhaps, but true nonetheless, and perhaps the most admirable quality of the novel.

After such a long amount of time spent with the characters, you feel as if you know them inside-out. Having lived their lives for the 18 or so months the book covers, you wonder, as it draws to a close, how Seth will possible draw the novel to an acceptable and satisfactory conclusion. It was with some trepidation that I approached the end of the book, and was delighted to find that, true to form, he drew loose ends together and completed the stories for each character in ways that I had simultaneously never expected and yet completely understood. Lessons are learnt, journeys are made, decisions are reached; life goes on, the world continues to revolve, and you know that even as you turn the final page, the characters will carry on with their lives, unheeded by the lack of constant observation. You have merely been privileged to witness a small slice of their everyday lives in the beautifully evocative city of Brahmpur, and I will forever be grateful to Seth for allowing us an intimate insight into the life and death, city and countryside, politics and history, culture and humanity of this intriguing, fascinating world.
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