Five words from the blurb: love, India, independent, struggle, destiny
After 10 months I’ve finally finished A Suitable Boy! It has been a strange reading experience as half the time I loved it and the rest of the time I was battling the urge to abandon it.
The book is set in 1950s India and gives a complex picture of what life was like as the country struggled to adapt to its Independence. The main plot revolves around Mrs. Rupa Mehra trying to find a ‘suitable boy’ for her younger daughter, Lata, to marry; but it is much more complex than that. There is a massive cast of characters, each with their own subplot, and the book covers many different aspects of Indian politics, religious conflict, and family life. It is an impressive record of Indian history during this time period, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.
The book had a frustrating structure:
- 30 – 50 pages to become familiar with a set of characters
- Enjoy them for about 20 – 30 pages before being thrown straight into the lives of entirely new group of people
- Repeat this process about 10 times
- After about 750 pages some of the different sets of characters start to come together (but by this point I had forgotten who many of them were and had to do some research!)
- Continue to add new characters
- After about 1000 pages finally understand what is happening
- Finally, after 1500 pages, experience a massive sense of relief that it is all over!
I might have enjoyed the book more if I’d read it quicker, but reading was such a battle that I dreaded the experience. I often fell in love with it 20 pages after picking it up, only to be thrown out of the narrative a few sections later. It was infuriating! I did enjoy the last 500 pages, but that still meant I struggled through 2/3 of the book.
I normally love epic reads like this, but I think A Suitable Boy reinforced my need for a small cast of characters – I’d prefer to know everything about a few people, rather than a little about lots. Perhaps my struggles were compounded by the fact it reminded me of my favourite book, A Fine Balance. Mistry’s book managed to convey many of the same themes, but within a smaller, more memorable cast of characters. I wonder how many characters readers will remember from A Suitable Boy a few years after finishing?
Vikram Seth plans to release the sequel, A Suitable Girl, in 2015. I wont be reading it.