Indian Summa

John Lanchester

  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
    Phoenix, 1349 pp, £20.00, March 1993, ISBN 1 897580 20 7

Forests have been slain, not only in the manufacture of A Suitable Boy, but in the production of its review coverage. An unusual amount of the publicity has been statistical, with journalists dwelling on the size of the book (1349 pages), its weight (an uncompromising 1.5 kilos), the size of the advances received (‘2.6 crore rupees’), and its status as the longest one-volume novel in the English Language. (Clarissa is longer and is now published in one volume, but wasn’t written that way.) The Indian reviews are generally rupee-driven, and widely acclamatory; one magazine says that Seth ‘has become India’s answer to Pearl S. Buck and Tolstoy’. The English reviews are also rupee-driven, and are more acclamatory still; the favourite comparison is with Middlemarch. Salman Rushdie writes to the papers to deny a rumour that he had dismissed the novel as a soap-opera: he says he’s two hundred pages in and going strong. On the other hand, the first American review calls the book ‘a cream puff’.

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