Lots of thought...
Do I want to do another one and commit to having to read a book for a year..
Should I give it a rest...
More importantly do you want to do another one...
I know it's not possible to please everyone with a choice, but I know how much pleasure a leisurely shared read of a big fat book we have always meant to read gives so many of us.
So I have wandered up and down the shelves, pulling out the chunksters.
I have considered The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, even sent for a good hardback copy, and then thought again, brilliant though I feel sure the book is, do we really want a year of illness and being blanketed on balconies, even if the view is nice.
I have wondered about Moby Dick, and am grateful to the Tinker who read it for me and thought maybe not, he now knows a lot about whales but kept wanting more story. Could we talk about whales for a whole year...I'm not sure I could.
Perhaps a big fat Dickens...
Perhaps not, because in order to enthuse you I need to feel enthused myself, and sadly I'm uncertain whether Dickens would sustain me for a year at the moment
And then I read an article by Peter Kemp, published in The Sunday Times 21 March 1993, and which I had tucked inside my as yet unread copy of the book I have in mind....
'Struck by the novel's amplitude, its publishers invoke comparisons with Tolstoy and George Eliot. Instead of seeming, as you might expect, embarrassingly over-large, these come to look more and more fitting as the book expands. Conceived on the grand scale of the great nineteenth-century novels - War and Peace and Middlemarch - A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth grows to match them in its breadth and depth. Spreading spaciously outwards to encompass an entire society, it simultaneously sinks inwards into the private worlds of its multifarious inhabitants.'
Having heaved my copy of A Suitable Boy off the shelf I have spent some time with it since, and I got that buzz of enthusiasm, enough to convince me that it is the 'right' book and very excited I am at the prospect of reading it. Apart from An Equal Music (which I have now read three times, as well as buying a CD of the music that features in the book) I am new to the writing of Vikram Seth, whilst India will be relatively fresh reading territory for me, and I suspect plenty of other reading trails will open up along the way.
'The time is the early 1950s. India is approaching its first general election, the largest ever held on earth, involving a sixth of the planet's population and, concurrently, a bill is being argued through parliament to wrest feudal power from landowners by breaking up their estates. Against this double test of democracy. Seth silhouettes an immense range of minutely depicted domestic and emotional circumstances.'
Professor John Carey, who chose A Suitable Boy as one of his books of the last century, suggests that this is the real India. The savagery and injustice of the times are not down-played, there will be the ferocity of a massacre, brutalised communities and 'city slums oozing black filth', there will be the 'sickening cruelties visited on outcastes' to deal with, but balanced with, as Peter Kemp suggests..
'...a seemingly endless pouring out of characters composed of different energies and appetites, needs, attachments, foibles, fallibilities and skills; a genius for mathematics or music, literary gifts, wit, the ability to create a beautiful garden or make a fine pair of shoes.
This human abundance, prodigally scattered across India's vastness, is unobtrusively arranged into fiction of meticulous, quiet artistry.'
Meanwhile John Carey reassures that the overwhelming sense is one of buoyancy..
'People are courteous, playful and enlivened by contrast...we are engulfed by Seth's India, its vastness and endless variety, its temples, hovels and rambling ancestral palaces, its jacaranda, jasmine and bougainvillea, its naked pilgrims and diamond-studded rajahs with rose petals strewn before their feet, its smells of incense, marijuana and sweat. Through it all flows the sun-burnished holy Ganges, bearing away the ashes of the dead.'
Won't it be interesting to read a 'living' author I thought, and even better the thought of the tantalising sequel, A Suitable Girl, scheduled for publication in 2014. Speaking last year at the Hay Dhaka Festival this is what Vikram Seth had to say about the book...
The line that sparked A Suitable Boy, said Seth, was the one that became the opening: ‘You too will marry a boy I choose’. From that sentence the whole world of 1950s India unfurled. An audience member tried to tease out of him details of the sort-of sequel he is writing called A Suitable Girl. “The characters are shy,” said Seth. “If I call them out now they will fly away.”
When submitted to publishers the first draft of A Suitable Boy was even longer than the (say it quickly) 1474 page book I have in front of me. The second draft was apparently read by about forty editors as it did the rounds, accumulating ever-increasing bids, each one raving about it and as Vikram Seth's agent said at the time...
'People smile when they talk about the experience.'
I think I'd like to share that reading experience too.
A Suitable Boy, would seem to divide readily into a year-longish read consisting of approximately 100-150 pages a month. It is written in nineteen parts and I have planned a schedule, some months two parts ocasionally one, beginning with first discussions in September, on Part One and Part Two (some lovely summer reading) and finishing in June 2014. As usual my brief thoughts would appear here on or about the same date each month, more to create the space for your comments than for me to spout forth, and as always it is your invaluable contributions that keep me going, creating the oxygen and sustaining the interest for this type of read.
I think there is a new paperback edition of A Suitable Boy due for publication in September, marking the book's twentieth anniversary, so availability is no problem, though no Kindle edition to date that I have found. So there it is... I am up for the challenge, and will be reading and writing about the book here anyway, but it would be great as always to have plenty of you along for the ride. I think it promises to be a good one.
So what do you think??