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Vikram Seth: A Suitable Boy

This is, apparently, the longest novel in English (my copy is 1349 pages long), presumably if you don’t count multipart works such as Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. It is also – there is no other way to describe it – a soap opera. If the idea of a 1350 page soap opera set in India in the 1950s puts you off, don’t be put off because Seth makes this novel so enjoyable that you will not realise that it is so long, you will not want it to end and you will not realize that it is a soap opera. The plot is far too complex to summarise here. Suffice it to say it concerns four well-off families in the town of Brahmpur on the Ganges but is primarily concerned with finding a husband for Lata Mehra (the suitable boy of the title) with Lata, her mother (concerned that Lata is seeing too many unsuitable boys) and various relatives heavily involved. Everything takes place against the background of the turbulent changes taking place in India during this period. The book has been compared to Dickens and to Middlemarch, not least because of its gigantic sweep and its cultural resonances. I am not sure if it is up to that standard but it is certainly a very fine novel and, though a soap opera, it is a soap opera in the tradition of Middlemarch.

Publishing history

First published in 1993 by Phoenix