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on 30 June 2014
I haven't even started this book which was recommended to me by a friend. I probably won't be reading it either as it is too big to handle and the print far too small to be able to read comfortably with glasses and I have no problem with my eyesight. Apparently the most normal format for this publication is in three books not one. I wish I had known that when I ordered this nove.
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on 20 December 2017
This is a beautifully written book, Vikram Seth has the ability to make his characters so real that we are fully involved with them. India comes so alive that even if you have never been there you feel, rightly or wrongly, as though you have. The tensions of post-partition India and the effect on her people intensify the action, and left me, at least, fuming over Britain's behaviour towards the country. Once started, the book is nearly impossible to put down; you really care about these people. Although the story centres on Lata and her mother's search for a husband for her, in fact I thought her the most colourless character in the book. This is probably deliberate, as she forms the still centre around whom the action swirls and develops. I did so wish she had insisted on marrying her Muslim student, who really loved her, but in the setting of the book it was clear that religious tensions would eventually pull them apart. Her eventual choice may have been "suitable", but not very romantic! - Which shows how involved you can get with the characters. My favourite characters were the Chatterjees, and especially Kakoli and the disastrously misnamed dog Cuddles.
A wonderful cast of people and a view into a warm, colourful world so different from cold, wet Britain. Each time I read it I part from them with real sadness, and can't wait to get back into the book again!
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on 7 July 2007
I read 'Suitable boy' when it first came out- and had a very positive reaction- but when I bought a copy recently and read it over my half-term holiday- I found myself deeply disappointed. I had completely over-rated this writer and the reason for it was because I had simply assumed that, because of his superior education, Seth had more to say- that he had a world-view, a theory of society- and that he was taking his time to present it in a prescriptive manner to the ordinary reading public. Now, ten years along, it has become clear that Seth doesn't have much to say- if he had more to say, A Suitable Boy, would be a much shorter book- and what he has to say is not original or timely. Thus, to stand up for good old fashioned 'know-how' and the empowerment of the technically minded middle class who, the book believes, will be able to solve the Labour problem by overaweing the proletariat with their superior skills- was not merely puerile, it was also a safe bet in the atmosphere of the Nineties- when the Socialists were in disarray. Another point has to do with Seth's timidity on the issue of gay rights. Both in the Golden Gate & Suitable boy, Seth puts forward Gore Vidal's point of view which falls far short of the robust defence of gay rights which recent breakthroughs in genetics have made intellectually compelling. Gore Vidal's position was good enough for his time- when a lot of Doctors talked of Homosexuality as a disease but SEth- who is very well educated- should surely have kept abreast of scientific developments in this regard and put forward a more cogent thesis. Indeed, it seems to me that the reason his book is so long is that he has raised up a forest to hide a single leaf- it is the half sentence that reveals that Maan Kapoor is bisexual and has had an affair with the man he will later try to kill (becuase he suspects him of having an affair with the courtesan he is himself involved with). The incest theme- the Muslim aristocrat who is attracted to the courtesan's daughter- not realising that she is his own half-sister- is a hackneyed theme in Urdu & Hindi literature. The fact that Seth can treat such tripe in a naturalistic rather than an ironic manner calls into question not just his taste but also his good faith.
Still, Vikram Seth's 'Suitable boy' is a good book. This is because the central characters really are worthwhile and interesting people- more so, sadly, than their son's treatment of them.
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on 18 June 2015
I am normally a fairly generous reviewer so it pained me to give only 3 stars in this case. However given that we are dealing with a reputed "classic" I thought long and hard before doing so. To say the book is overlong is an understatement and in my view the length cannot be justified. The first 200 pages set the scene character wise which given the cast size is probably acceptable. I got into the marvellous descriptions of Indian life and commerce in the newly independent country but the descriptions of Politics and the Law were overly technical and dry and thus made for a very difficult read.
I liked the very short episodic chapters however one shouldn't expect cliff hanging chapter endings because this ain't a thriller more like a soap opera. In fact I felt that the story just meandered along a bit like the Ganges itself which may have been Seths idea all along. It was interesting that Seth seemed to offer no opinions on the injustices of Indian life such as the caste system and corruption in high places preferring to describe the scenes as they would have played out. The title is in my view also slightly misleading as the tale of the heroine Lata is by no means central to the plot. In fact it is little mentioned in the scheme of things given the novels length.
I took 10 weeks to plough through this tome and lost the will to live more than once but as I finished the last page I had a sense of dissatisfaction and the feeling that I shouldn't feel this way about an undoubtedly well written novel.
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on 21 December 2002
The Bone People is a wonderful, life-changing book that is rich in character, vivid in detail and encompasses almost the entire range of human emotions. The plot revolves around three lost souls: Kerewin, an artist who can no longer create; Simon, a mute boy who washed up on a deserted beach; and Joe, Simon's almost-stepfather.
At its heart, The Bone People is a romance but it is also a story that takes a look at the dark and serious side of life as well, especially child abuse. No one should be put off by its sometimes depressing subject matter, though. The Bone People is a book that, surprisingly and wonderfully, always manages to celebrate life in all of its complexity. In fact, much of it is lyrically beautiful despite the darkness of some of its themes.
The Bone People is extraordinarily well-written (enough so to garner Hulme a Booker Prize). This is a book with a style and voice all its own, something highly unusual in a first novel. But, unlike some recent novels, The Bone People is never a case of style-over-substance; Hulme weaves her magic with both her engrossing story and her unique, almost stream-of-consciousness style. There are a lot of shifts in time and perspective in this novel but they are always smooth and perfectly placed. Nothing about The Bone People seems jarring or out-of-place. Hulme's prose is almost musical: andante, adagio, allegro, and we find ourselves reading to the cadence she sets.
The Bone People has an extraordinary and wonderful sense of place. Part of this is inherent in the New Zealand setting and the Maori words that decorate the text. The beach scenes are especially well-written and we can really smell the sea and feel the warmth of the sand between our toes.
A few things about The Bone People might seem disjointed at first. The prologue, for example, only makes sense after you finish the book and then reread it. But, to Hulme's credit, it is entitled, "The End At The Beginning," so this should come as no surprise.
The ending, which gives some readers a little trouble, might be more easily understood if we only realize that Hulme is dealing with her characters on an individual basis at this point in the book. Once we realize that, any sense of a deus ex machina ending disappears and all makes perfect sense. It is mystical, yes, but it is a mysticism inherent in the book's story and so it belongs there, rather than being inserted.
The Bone People is a lyrical and beautiful book that takes a sensitive look at some of life's most serious problems. I wish there were more books out there that measured up to the standard it set.
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on 31 May 2010
There is only one problem with this book - once you get to the end, you will wish it was just a little longer so you could spend more time with the fantastic cast of characters you have met along the way.

Very broadly it could be described as a love story. But it is neither a story of love alone, or of even one kind of love. It is about brotherly love, sisterly love, the love of a mother for her son or daughter, the love of a husband for his wife, the love of an uncle for his nephew, of a man for his friend. Forbidden love, unwanted love, unrequited love, selfless love - they are all here.

The book covers a period of time from the marriage of one daughter, through the search for a suitable boy for her sister and finally to the second daughters marriage. In this time we are introduced to a vast array of different characters; some relatives, some friends and some just passers by; and exposed to a variety of different events - some good, some tragic.

No character in this book is a shallow shell, an incidental prop to the storyline. Every single person is shown to have multiple facets, and just as in real life it can soon be seen that none of them are either wholly good or wholly bad. The lay-about ministers son who seems to be born to do nothing shows himself to be an unashamed romantic, a loyal friend and defender of justice. On the other hand, he is also impulsive and prone to taking sudden and tragic action on the spur of the moment. His father's political rival seems to be quite a hardened and bigoted man, but on the other hand we soon see that he is deeply affectionate towards his daughter and misses her greatly now that she lives with her husbands family.

In a similarly realistic fashion, the events that occur in the course of the story unfold slowly in such a way that each preceeding events can be seen to have influenced those that follow. You can be half way through reading about a religious festival, which has been built up to for quite a while before, and suddenly you can see where Seth is leading you with unerring momentum, and it all seems so inevitable and so unavoidable that when something awful happens you feel like you should of expected it all along.

Politics, music, poetry, religion, caste, social obligations, women's rights, history, craftmanship, romance, friendship, family, trust, the expectations that parents have for their children, the exasperation that children have for their parents - these are some of the subjects that that Seth draws upon in this amazing book. His scope varies from the immense subject of post-independence politics to the very personal one of individual prejudices, superstitions and beliefs. From public outrage to family scandal, he seamlessly switches from the effect an event has on the nation to its consequences within a particular group of people. The result is that the book seems to be a living history, even though most of the characters and even the places are fictional. It feels real. It feels like a genuine piece of India.

A joy to read, this is a book that will stay in your mind for a very long time. Both comforting and eye-opening, you are sure to turn to it time and time again.
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on 4 October 2015
This novel, set in the early 1950s in India starts with an arranged marriage - at which the mother of the bride says to the bride's younger daughter that she will find a suitable boy for her too; and ends with the marriage of that daughter who has in the meantime been courted by three men. One she has met for herself in a bookshop but he is a Muslim and she is a Hindu; one has been found by her mother and has many positive qualities but is not a great speaker of English and works in the shoe trade; the third is the brother of her own brother's wife and is a novelist and poet and a bit tied up with being a novelist and a poet. Meanwhile we get a full panorama of Indian society and politics - the British have recently left and land reform (a Zamindari Act) is underway and corruption starts to grow, Congress remains in power and Nehru very popular but is not great at using his power, and there is a great deal of misery and oppression as well as some people living leisured lives in the wake of the British, who have mostly but not quite all, disappeared in person.

This novel, which took me three to four weeks to read, is a mix of Jane Austen (there are even theatricals in the manner, almost, of Mansfield Park, which is name checked in the book) and social comedy and the widespread panorama of life and sympathy with all the characters, mostly vividly brought to life, that is more like Tolstoy.

Overall, I was very sorry when the pleasure of reading this came to an end, despite the occasional longueur. I'd recommend it very strongly.
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on 31 January 1999
This book, reputed to be the longest written in the English language, is a total immersion experience, and you can almost smell India at times. Anyone who has read their share of English classics will hear echoes, from George Eliot, Dickens and Austin, as the old concerns about marrying well are analysed in newly-independent, post-war India. Whom should our girl marry, the poet or the cobbler? Should we marry one we are enthralled by or one that lets us be ourselves? These things are asked but not always answered, against a background of politics and religion. What made it for me were the totally loveable and some equally repellent characters you meet along the way. These seem like real people, which is the delightful triumph of this epic work. There are plenty of blank pages at the back of the book to write your own glossary of the many Indian words you will come across. A book to savour, as you lie on your charpoy, sipping a cool nimbu pani.
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on 9 August 2013
Some are born mad, some achieve madness, and others have madness thrust upon them.
The book is set in the days just after partition, based on families going through birth pangs after the Partition of India into India and Pakistan. The Partition and subsequent religious riots in India have made a pretty significant affect on the psych of India which is of a much more lasting nature than Pakistan who can only look back or read about Partition on their end. Indians on the other hand live in constant fear of inciting yet another religious riot in their cities while Pakistanis can move on after burying the riots behind them. Religious riots are far more dangerous than racial riots.

It struck me almost halfway through the novel, the irony of the much lauded Zamindari bill which Seth has so vividly portrayed in this classic novel. What is the difference between the East India Company and the Indian Nationalists if the All India Congress party? The Zamindari bill was same policy polished and re-badged all over again. How can we have the audacity to accuse the British of exploiting India when Indians seem to have done exactly the same when their turn was up?

As I read more and more of this wondrously engaging story, I could relate to straight parables to the Partition drama, there is a crime of drunken passion purported by one good friend, which for me resembled the senseless riots after the Partition. There are other examples which are steeped in Partition which for me makes the story very relevant for a proper depiction of that era.
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on 17 December 2016
Its a few days since I finished a suitable boy and I am missing reading it, always a sign of a good book. I can read a novel easily in a couple of nights and this took me a month to read and I loved every page of it. As with all the best stories it takes a while to work out just who is who and in this case, as it's about the fortunes of three quite large Indian families, perhaps a little more perseverance is needed than is usual. But when you get to know them, and believe me you do over such a long read, you care very much about their fates. If you love reading well written, thoughtful books that cover just about every situation in life, love, grief, loss etc you will adore this book and remember it for ever. It's also a great insight into another culture and time in history as it is set in 1948.Only one tiny criticism. Seth quite rightly uses a lot of Indian vocabulary and you can guess from the context what he means but a large number of them are missing from the, usually excellent, Kindle dictionary and I would have liked a precise definition at times.
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