This book is a sweeping saga in the finest tradition, which is expressed not only in its length and revered reputation, but also in the fact that a wholly necessary set of four family trees sits at the beginning of the book to give you hope of keeping track of who everyone is.
The book, as far as I've read anyway, centres around Lata Mehra, a Brahmpur student who is of marriageable age, which means her mother, the classic busybody martyr Mrs Rupa Mehra, is on a quest for find her that elusive 'suitable boy' of the title. Lata's not so keen and has other ideas anyway, which so far have included Kabir Durrani, a unacceptable Muslim boy who her mother packs her off to Calcutta to keep her from seeing. This central theme of suitable marriage is then extended out using vast tentacles through the book to reach all corners of the Mehra's extended family and circle of acquaintances: each section centres on a different branch of the family, or a different protagonist. Some of the marriages are presented as 'suitable', some are not; the epic scope of this novel seems to include types of metaphorical marriage in the definition, such as work relations, political relationships and the living 'marriage' of different religious and caste types that all seem to meet and clash in Brahmpur. I have a feeling that the conclusion we will come to is that no 'marriage' is perfect and that people must just learn to live together as best they can considering their circumstances, but there are a fair few pages to go (a meagre 1084) before we come to that point!
This novel is beautifully atmospheric and hugely evocative of India, which acts as both the platform and as an integral character of the novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn - Lata and Mahati are particular favourites of mine already, as is cheeky Maan - and I am already so involved with the majority of them and their own particular predicaments.
I'm enjoying it slightly less generally when it moves from the personal, e.g. Lata and the families, to the political: I am currently smack bang in the middle of the repercussions of the Misri Mandi riot, and although I can see how their discussion is integral to expressing the religious and caste tensions inherent in the story, I'm finding the characters and situations associated with this slightly less compelling. The writing throughout is excellent though - it's impressive how the quality is so consistent when there's just so much of it - and I feel in very safe hands. The pacing is also much quicker than you might expect for a novel of this size.
So, onwards! I'll report back next month, by which time I'll hopefully be around page 947... :)
Thoughts thus far from other Readathon participants:
(I'll add the others as they publish)
Title: 'A Suitable Boy'
Author: Vikram Seth
Publisher: Phoenix House
Format: Hardback, 1349 pages, and my copy is a library book.