The sheer size of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy creates an impact. Its fat spine takes up four books-worth of space on the shelf. I took this monster thirteen hundred page novel with me on holiday twenty years ago and although I was in Italy, for much of the time I was transported to India.
But it wasn’t the foreign travel that provided the book’s greatest hook for me. At the heart of the novel is a simple question. A question that is central to so many great romances: Who will Lata (the heroine) marry? There are three contenders and they’re each so strong that I wished they could all be successful! But only one is really suitable – Lata knows this and amidst the upheavals of family, religious and political division she eventually makes her choice.
The realisation for me, that a single idea should provide the backbone of such a vast and complex novel made a huge impact on me. How often had I begun writing without much thought about where I was headed? I imagined myself minus a spine. All my insides floating about in a bag with nothing to hold them together. Eeek! Now, I have to know the big question that my story will seek to answer before I begin to write. Sometimes I know the answer, but not always.
Vikram Seth is a wonderful writer. The characters were friends and family that I cared about even when they behaved badly. His style isn’t dense and difficult (although I was very grateful for the family trees at the beginning) but conversational and often humorous. Lucky new readers can get it on Kindle. Dropping a print copy on your foot is another way it would make quite an impact.
Cathie Hartigan is a prize-winning writer and the founder of CreativeWritingMatters, an on-line writing resource. She is also an organiser and reader for The Exeter Novel Prize.
Novel Kicks is a blog for story tellers and book lovers.