Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

I was never entirely sure who belonged to what family in this book, but it never really bothered me. I mean, after we switched back to a different group of characters, I was able to reconstruct who they were related to fairly easily, but I never could hold the genealogies in my mind.

Which is a way of saying that this is another large sprawling family book, and that's a genre I tend to love, if they're done well. And this one was.

And more than just a sprawling family tale set in India, it's about India at a particular time, (the 1950s), and the politics (national, local, academic, familial) that permeated the landscape. While the narrative loops lazily around family issues and affairs, reminding me of nothing so much as certain aspects of Jane Austen, the scene is intermittently broken by scenes of startling violence and power, emphasizing that even the most secure at this time were not safe when sectarian violence or political turmoil or simple accident came calling.

The comparison to Jane Austen came to mind often, and was probably helped along by the books the characters themselves were reading. They talked about Indian and Bengali literature often, but whenever a character went on a trip, it was Austen they were reading on the train. Or Trollope. Or another British classic. And indeed the comparative or deliberate Britishness of the characters was frequently a theme, particularly among the more status-seeking business class.

I enjoyed this book so much (and would have to, to stick with it through almost 1400 pages), and the characters and the descriptions, and the India which teemed with problems both familiar and foreign.

Read as part of The BBC Big Read

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