Vikram Seth - A Suitable Boy

A Tea with a Book Addict talk

One of the longest novels ever published in a single volume, this story is set in post-independence, post-partition India. It sweeps through history, the caste system, love affairs, land reforms, religious strife and politics. Rich and complex, wide-ranging and moving, this book transports the reader so vividly to India.

A subscriber-only Zoom talk on Sunday 11 July 2021, 4.00 pm Australian Eastern Time (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra).

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“the book to restore the serious reading public’s faith in the contemporary novel,”
― Daniel Johnson, The Times

Compared to Tolstoy and Eliot

When Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy was published in 1993, it took the world by storm. It remains one of the longest novels ever to be published in a single volume (at nearly one and a half thousand pages) and it has a huge cast of characters, so can appear to many to be a daunting read. Vikram Seth has been compared with Tolstoy and to George Eliot, and his book has been listed as one of the ‘all-time great Asian novels’.

A novel on a grand scale

A Suitable Boy is a love story, concerning Lata Mehra’s search for a ‘suitable boy’ to marry. Her mother is desperate to snare a son-in-law, but Lata would rather focus on studying English Literature. She meets three possible suitors and at the end of the novel, she makes her choice. Many other marriages and love relationships are discussed within this rich novel – young Maan Kapoor falls for the courtesan singer Saeeda Bai, but he is loved by his friend Firoz, and there are the marriages of Lata’s brother and of her sister which provide her with important matrimonial examples.

The novel is also the story of India, a newly independent country struggling through a general election and political choices. Much of it is set near the Ganges which is more than a river – it is the Holy Mother of India. Seth gives his readers festivals and ceremonies, traditions and laws, cricket and clothing, food and funerals – the book is a panoramic sweep through a densely populated, colourful and intriguing land. It’s a novel on a truly grand scale.

Discuss it with me

How did Vikram Seth come to write his masterpiece, and which other writers inspired him? Which members of his own family were the models for his characters? And what chances are there of the promised sequel about ‘A Suitable Girl’? How faithful is the recent TV adaptation (which has been described as ‘the Crown in brown’) to the original book, and how did the series break new ground?

Join me in discussing this monumental novel and in examining its power to delight and impress. You can discuss it with me.

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Featured image credit- Danesh Razvi & Tanya Maniktala, A Suitable Boy, 2020 BBC TV series adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10795574/

Comments (2)

  1. Margy

    Hi Susannah and thanks for the wonderful lecture. I also attempted to read this book when it came out but it became one of the only books I’ve ever started and not finished. For your lecture I decided to watch the Netflix series – at least I would know the ending! I loved the mini-series and now need to go back and read the book. Now I know the characters and their (to me) complex names, I should be able to concentrate more on the plot and the language. The same thing happened to me with War and Peace – watching the original, and then the subsequent, mini-series – and I’m now a great fan. I am usually adamant that reading the book first is the only way to go, but these two have proved the opposite.

    Happy reading, Margy

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh do give it another try. You will love all the Jane Austen references and parallels in it. I just didn’t want to put it down, though I still don’t agree with the friend who told me it was “better than Jane Austen”.

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