Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy was, in my opinon, a very Austenian book (if Dickens gets his own adjective, so does Austen).
‘Austenian’ Characteristics Checklist:
1. Depiction of select families as a microcosm of the upper-class
2. Themes of marriage, sense versus sensibility, patriarchism, social hierarchy
3. Heroine who must overcome various obstacles before marrying the one
4. Multitude of sexy suitors and miscellaneous male characters who must choose between duty/love
5. Archetypal parent figures – e.g. rich, eccentric and dysfunctional father figure, overbearing bigoted mother who must marry all her daughters off to suitable boys
In that respect, how did Lata fare as a heroine? I suppose she did very well by marrying a Suitable khatri Boy. Anne would have applauded her for her good sense. Marianne would have rebuked her for conforming to the expectations of society. Elizabeth Bennet would have looked disdainfully upon her husband, and remarked that he was a pretentious snot.
Upon reaching the last page, I tried carefully to analyse my own feelings, but my disappointment was inseparable from my admiration. On one hand, I detested the girl – I was seething with fury – because she had chosen a nice boy over a gorgeous boy. Why do writers do this to their characters (and to their readers, for that matter). Why must literature echo the cold brutality of life? Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, in Pygmalion; Laurie and Jo, in Little Women; Edmund and Mercedes in The Count of Monte Cristo.
On the other hand, I admired Lata for being so well-grounded in reality. She was able to understand that her love for Khabir would not necessarily translate into a successful marriage, and she was also able to distinguish the man who could bring her happiness. In short, Lata chose to follow her head over her heart, and it was a decision that displayed maturity. Far too many novels romanticize reckless relationships without depicting the consequences (i.e. life after the happy – and, in many cases, abrupt – ending).
Nevertheless, apart from that one disappointment, this was an impressive book. It was admirable in scope, and structure, and all those things. It was also very traditional in a sense – linear narration, the occasional (and subtle) authorial intrusion. I didn’t catch a single whiff of postmodernism in this book, and I liked that.
Apart from being a very entertaining read, it was quite educational too. I learnt a lot about post-colonial politics, the caste system, the art of shoemaking, religious practices (and conflict) in India – and that’s just a scratch on the surface. This was truly a novel of epic proportions.
On a completely random sidenote, I discovered today that on WordPress, it’s possible to completely edit all the comments left on your blog. Does anyone else find this extremely odd? It’s like internet censorship!