A Suitable Boy is a 1993 romance historical fiction novel by Vikram Seth which is recognised as one of the most well received works of fiction by critics and readers alike. It is also popularly compared to the classic novels such as War and Peace, Middlemarch andClarissa.
According to Vikram Seth, the biggest influence on A Suitable Boy is the five-volume 18th Century Chinese novel The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin.
The novel ranked number 55, higher than Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Roy’s The God of Small Things,on BBC’s The Big Read poll which aimed to find the most loved novel in United Kingdom symbolising the popularity of the novel.
With a page count of 1535 pages, A Suitable Boy is presumably longer than War and Peace, it is rumoured to be the longest novel ever published in one volume in the English language.
With such a heavy tome, the novel proved to be one of the most successful experiments in the classical sense, as the copies sold out wildly in the West.
The novel follows the simple social lives against the rich political backdrop of postcolonial and post independence India of four families – The Mehra, Kapoor, Khan, Chatterji.
The novel begins with Rupa Mehra telling her daughter Lata Mehra that she has to marry a boy of her mother’s choice,which sets the Austenian tone for the main plot of the novel.
A vast set of characters make their presence felt in the novel such as Lata Mehra, Maan Kapoor, Pran Kapoor, Saeeda Bai, Rasheed, Haresh Khanna, Kabir Durrani and Amit Chatterji, and especially many fictional political figures and non fictional, Jawaharlal Nehru being the most significant.
There are a lot of significant characters, more than I can recall and state here on this post, so I would suggest you go and pick up this brick of a novel and choose your suitable ones.
A Suitable Boy explores a vast set of themes and circumstances of the postcolonial and post-Independence India in terms of politics and personal lives of other people, it glances over lives of musicians, rich and the poor, politics and social life, urban and rural life, diverse religions and population of India, relationships between people of different sects, societies and religions- almost touching upon the essence of India in all its flavours bitter or sweet.
Having said that, the question arises, whether is A Suitable Boy a political novel or does it provide a sort of political commentary on its rich setting or landscape?
The answer is simply, no, because at the centre of it, it is a deep examination of life and human relationships rather than other external factors which is not at all disappointing for me, honestly.
I also feel that the regular comparison done by critics that A Suitable Boy and War and Peace are in any manner similar is only due to their length and their multitudinous group of characters but apart from that, the soul of A Suitable Boy belongs to the sophisticated and satirical Jane Austen, who seems to have given the magic of prose to Vikram Seth and it stands out in this book, the soft choice of words for description, the pictorial essence of sentiments, and the satirical sharp eye for the bleakness of characters and turbulence of postcolonial India.
This novel is a must read, and trust me, you would be amazed as the pages start to diminish, and by the end of it, you would wish it would never end.
A Suitable Boy deals with many tragic themes but at the heart of it, it is a beautiful symphony which gives a breath of fresh air and acceptance of life to the soul.