A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

You should have no problem picking this up from your local independent book shop or second-hand book shop … but you can click to buy from Amazon if you want.
“A desperate mother ventures to deploy
Fair means or foul to net a suitable boy.”

There are many things I enjoy about writing on this blog. As a book lover I enjoy delving further into a story, and really thinking about what makes it work (or not!) I also like being able to think about the books that have influenced me over the years which is what our throwback Thursday feature is designed for.

I first read “A Suitable Boy” when I was at university, travelling across London on the tube, some 9 years after it was originally published. It is an epic of a novel, coming in at 1474 pages in my copy. No real surprise then to say I haven’t read it again since university. Despite this, I can still picture scenes in my head. Images of the foulness of the tanning pits explored by Haresh Khanna; flies buzzing over earth stained red by the expectoration of paan- juice; the joy and colour during the festival of Holi.

The book is set in the fictional city of Brahmpur in 1950’s India. At its heart, this is the story of the search for the suitable boy Mrs Rupa Mehra is trying desperately to find for her daughter Lata. Within the search religion and caste are both important factors for Mrs Mehra. They are a Hindu family, and Mrs Mehra has narrowed her search down to Haresh Khanna the business man, and Amit Chatterji the poet. Lata herself falls in love with Kabir Durrani, fellow student, cricketer and Muslim. Horrified, Mrs Mehra sends her daughter away to Calcutta.

The role of women is interestingly explored. The more modern aspect of Indian society is demonstrated by Lata’s friend Malati who has chosen to do medicine at university, and is able to choose her own relationships. Mrs Mehra reflects the more traditional aspect of Indian society, with Lata torn between a desire to follow her heart setting her own course through life, and duty to her mother. Compare this to the love affair between Maan Kapoor and the courtesan Saeeda Bai which also transcends religious boundaries, and causes scandal and gossip but is not forbidden, and it easy to see the difference in the world of women and men.

Religion is a central theme of the book, and deftly approached by Seth. Land reforms threaten the Khans, and tensions are high following the decision to build a Hindu temple which will sit between Alamgiri Mosque and Mecca. India and its people are trying to define themselves in these changing times, but the wounds of recent conflict are very much present.

There are a lot of characters. Beautifully developed, sometimes difficult to keep track of, although the family trees at the start of the book help. The language is poetic, as you would expect from Seth. Even the 19 parts of the books are described in rhyming couplets on the contents page. There is so much to this book. So much to learn and take from it, but the characters and beauty of the writing will draw you in and keep you reading. And you will be glad you did.

4 and a half bites.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.