You will have to believe me when I tell you that what follows happened in this order...
1. I am reading this month's parts of A Suitable Boy and come to the passage about the wolf hunt.
2. 'Wolf hunt??' I think, wasn't there one of those in War and Peace??
2.5 I have been making comparisons to Middlemarch for some time, but now I start to think more closely about comparisons with War and Peace. Do we have our Prince Andre and our Natasha?? How interesting in fact that after the W&P wolf hunt doesn't Natash do her famous dance followed by some discussion about finding her a suitable husband...
3. I set my Kindle aside for a while and pick up a forthcoming autobiography by John Carey, The Unexpected Professor. It is every bit as good as I thought it might be and I will continue with it and report back.
4. But didn't John Carey write that book about reading for pleasure, something about the most enjoyable 100 books of the twentieth century... and surely I have it on the shelf somewhere.
4.5. Have I already checked, I can't remember but I wonder if John Carey rates A Suitable Boy as one of them..
5. I find the book, Pure Pleasure, and frantically scan the index... A Room With a View, The Garden Party, The Great Gatsby, The House in Paris, Of Mice and Men, Brighton Rock...yes, yes, but no Vikram Seth...oh wait a minute, they are in order of year of publication and there it is, third from the end, A Suitable Boy.
In my haste to read what John Carey has to say the pages are almost coming out of the book, I find it and start to read the opening paragraph..
'Vikrams Seth's mammoth novel about newly independent India challenges comparison with War and Peace and does so knowingly. The wolf-hunt in A Suitable Boy clearly mirrors the wolf hunt in Tolstoy's epic, and Tolstoy's technique of mediating huge political events through the fortunes of a small group of families is adopted by Seth.
Suddenly the value of these shared reads of big long books over the last five years becomes even more apparent. If you were on board the troika and the brougham, perhaps even remembering some elements of Team Ulysses, then this journey through India might be resonating more deeply than ever. I am so pleased we chose A Suitable Boy because we have unwittingly (in my case, I was mainly up for something more recent, unread and hefty) given ourselves a mighty quadrumvirate (3564 pages in total) of brilliant and connected reading.
John Carey goes on to say...
'Both novelists have an uncanny gift for characterization, creating people so real and engaging that you speed-read to see what happens to them next. Seth's daring extends to his choice of subject. There is no topic on which enlightened English people feel more superior to Indians than that of arranged marriage.'
'The idea of being forced into wedlock outrages our strongest liberal instincts.'
As the novel progresses, and the plot and the list of suitors grows, John Carey hits the nail squarely on the head about my attitudes...
'...we are programmed to react with horror. Yet we do not. For so skilfully does Seth convey Mrs Mehra's essential goodness that our urge to condemn is replaced by understanding.'
And perhaps that understanding elicited more powerfully than ever in this month's reading, especially Part Nine, and Lata's terror at the unwelcome night time advances of Mr Sahgal and her recovered memory of a childhood incident with him. By deduction we assume that we now 'know' what is happening to his tearful and fearful daughter Kiran...her room just along the corridor, Mr Sahgal's creeping footsteps passing Lata's door, now blocked with her suitcase, and continuing on to Kiran's, and only heard returning two hours later.
Suddenly the vulnerability of these young, over-protected women becomes starkly apparent and I want them all married off as quickly as possible.
That aside we have another Suitable Boy in Haresh, the completer-finisher introduced in Part Four and with connections to Lata via Bhaskar, the little maths-genius son of Veena (Kapoor, sister of Pran who is married to Lata's sister Savita) and Kedarnath Tandon (the shoemaker) and thence connected to Kabir son of Dr Durrani to whom Bhaskar was taken to meet by Haresh for some mathematical sharing.
Are you keeping up??
My spider's web pages of genogram connections now a mess, but coming in very handy.
I haven't even touched on Maan's progress in the village, or the other sides to Rasheed's life now emerging...marrying his brother's widow, taking on the children...
But that's enough from me, over to you...
Future suggested discussion dates for the diary barring flood, natural disasters or Acts of God::
Parts 11 & 12 :: Saturday March 8th 2014
Parts 13 & 14 :: Saturday April 12th 2014
Parts 15 & 16 :: Saturday May 17th 2014
THE GRAND MIDSUMMER FINALE - Parts 17,18 & 19 :: Saturday June 21st 2014