Thursday 23 August 2012

A Suitable Boy: Part One

It's been exactly a month since the start of the Suitable Boy group read and I'm happy to say I have completed the 538 pages in the first section of our reading.  I was excited to start this book as I'm a fan of Indian literature and many times in the past I had picked it up off my shelf only to be daunted by the size - it's 1474 pages and the font is tiny.  But now I've started it, I'm so glad I did as it's well on the way to becoming a favourite.

The anchoring story is about Lata and her mother's search to find her a suitable husband but it's really a panoramic novel with four main families and many more secondary characters.  There are lots of  stories happening at once and Seth jumps between them (the family trees at the front are very helpful and mine are now covered in annotations!).  I'm enjoying the Chatterji family the most so far, they are more liberal than the other families and have some memorable characters, such as Meenakshi, who would have a lot in common with Scarlett O'Hara, Kakoli who has a German boyfriend, and writer Amit.   Their little quirk of speaking in rhyming couplets is cute.

I've been surprised at how much religious tension is right up there in the novel.  It's set straight after partition (Bangladesh doesn't exist at the moment) and there's some Hindi characters, like Kedarnath, who have had to flee from Pakistan to India and who have lost everything.  The theme is really hammered home when Lata falls in love with Kabir, a fellow student.  They have been dating for a while before she finds out he is a Muslim and when her family finds out too, there are serious repurcussions.   Her mother even thinks "it was one thing to mix socially with Muslims, entirely another to dream of polluting one's blood and sacrificing one's daughter."  Not quite a 'suitable boy' then!

I could go on for ages about this book and all the different characters in it as I'm completely loving it.  After a month, they feel like old friends and I have a feeling this book is going to be truly epic before we reach the finishing line.  My absolute favourite character is Lata's Mum, Mrs Rupa Mehra, who is the very definition of interfering busybody and martyr.  She would be so irritating to have as a mother but she's certainly funny to read about.  My favourite quote of hers:

"I have to do everything in this house, and no one cares for me.  Everything goes wrong and I have to make peace.  I have slaved for you all my life, and you don't care if I live or die.  Only when I'm burned on the pyre will you realise my worth!" This is basically said every time someone disagrees with her.  I think we are in for a long search for a suitable husband for Lata!

Coincidentally, this is the first time I have ever read two books at once as I was a strictly monogamous reader before this.  At first I found it difficult to read two things at once, and felt guilty for picking up another book, but now I have 'seen the light', so to speak.  Reading this alongside other books means the length and my progress do not bother me as I'm still completing other titles.  I'm free to sink into the story and read at a leisurely pace, which has been lovely.

If you're doing the group read, please leave me a link to any posts you've done - I'd love to see what you all think.  Which storyline and characters are you most closely following?


  1. I hadn't heard of this book before, but at 1400+ pages I could see why you'd want to pace yourself and read it alongside other books. Very cool that you've been able to adapt to reading more books at once!

    1. It's a monster of a book for sure! Now I'm reading more than one book at once, I'm wondering why I didn't start to do so earlier.

  2. I love your review! I keep nodding away as I read your post.
    and I understand what you said about reading 2 books (actually I read about 4 or 5 at one go) lol. I just don't think it is a good idea to try to read such a long book at one go. I'm glad we paced it. I also think this book is bold and Seth is not afraid to say it as it is esp regarding religious tension and political situation in India.
    It's an epic in the making. I'm glad you enjoy it!

    1. 4 or 5 might be too much for me at the moment! I've read some long books monogamously (Anna K, Gone with the Wind), but so far I'm enjoying pacing myself more.

      It's totally going to be an epic :)

  3. Whenever I've got a chunkster like this on the go I usually also have something smaller to carry with me when I leave the house - otherwise, my back! And it does feel a little like I'm cheating on my 'at home' book ;) Suitable Boy sounds like a good one. I've seen it in the used store now and then, always pick it up and flip through it, but haven't as yet bought a copy. I love the cover too!

  4. I'm glad you're really enjoying this one! I started the book also really liking Mrs. Rupa Mehra, but she began to grate on me about 1000 pages in or so ;-) I really liked Lata and her friends, and they won the story for me. I also fell in love with Pran - such a nice guy!

    PS - Very common mistake to make, but people are Hindu, not Hindi :-)