This is a somewhat superflous review, given the praise heaped on this book by all the other reviewers.And they're quite right. This is the rarest of things, a long, literary novel that really delivers and can be enjoyed by anyone who's reasonably literate and has enough time on their hands.
Proof positive that size really does matter, A Suitable Boy's biggest strength is it huge length. Though some passages are redundant, generally the scale of the book adds to its power and resonance, so that by its end the sheer fact of having spent so much time with the characters makes you view them all as friends. The characters are also wonderfully drawn and hugely sympathetic, and though each acts in their own idiosyncratic way, they never stray beyond the boundaries of believability. Lata in particular will be engrained in your consciousness by the end of the book. I viewed her almost as a sister, so strongly did I feel for her. In breaks from reading the book I actually sat around worrying if things were going to work out okay for her. No other book has made me to that.
But as well as being a portrait of an individual and 4 families, A Suitable Boy is a portrait of an entire nation. Although all the main characters are middle class, the book's characters range from Nehru to the poorest peasants. Allegorically, the story of Lata also reflects that of India as a whole. Lata is growing up and trying to make her own decision about marriage just as the world's largest democracy is making its first great decision - in the 1951 General Election. Lata's choices subtly mirror those of the nation to which she belongs, adding another dimension to an already extraordinary story.
The portait of Indian society is remarkable in just how much it seems to teach you of the Indian mindset. Having read the book I felt for the first time as if I had an idea of what it would be like to have lived in post-independence India. No other book has taught me as much about a place.
If the book has a flaw it is the ending. I won't give it away, but I feel the book cries out for a sequel. It is as if Seth, having written so much, didn't quite know how to stop. But this is just a minor gripe.
Reading this book is an undoubted commitment, but it more than repays the reader's efforts. The reviews on the book itself are for once no exaggeration. If you make time for it it will, as one review says, keep you company for the rest of your life.