Vikram Seth - A Suitable Boy

A Video 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.

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?

“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’.

Responsible for social change

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.

Purchase the complete Video Talk (just $9)

At just $9 this Video Talk is a real treat! In it, I reveal intriguing stories about the author to help you understand what prompted this book to be written. I identify the main characters and their roles, analyse the themes behind the story, and describe the influence that the era, lifestyle and circumstances have on the book’s setting. It is illustrated with photographs, paintings, scenes from different film versions and book covers – you’ll have plenty to look at while you listen. Buy it now and receive a link to view your video immediately.

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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 here.

Thank you for the wonderful talk about the Suitable Boy. I found the biosketch of Vikram Seth as fascinating as the book. What an amazing man!

I look forward to seeing you on the screen next month. 

Emanuela

Thank you for yet another marvellous journey, Susannah!

Alan

Just loved going to India with you today, having travelled widely there for several months back in the hippy days of 1970 and again in 1978 (This time with Oxfam).

I heard Vickram Seth speak at the 2008 Ubud Writers Festival, alas, I don’t seem to have got a photo that day.

I have to admit to not having read the book, the daunting size has always put me off, but I watched the Netflix series this week in advance of the talk and just loved it. Not a touch of Bollywood’s over-the-topness and superficiality about the production. I was aware throughout of the Pride and Prejudice parallels! And how daring that kiss must have been to an Indian audience. An Equal Music blew me away when I read it 20 years ago- time to revisit that one.

Thanks for the wondrous insights into Seth’s Life and work. 

Toni
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. 
Margy
Thank you for the Tea with a Book Addict talks which I have been enjoying very much.
Pam
Thank you very much. Wonderful talk again.
Penny

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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/

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