Vikram Seth Writing Styles in A Suitable Boy

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Point of View

Vikram Seth writes his novel in the omniscient mode. It is as though the reader is looking through windows into the family relationships and the mental and emotional attitudes of the individual characters. Aside from Seth himself, there is no narrator in the book which allows the author to put in excellent descriptions of objects and the landscape, sometimes in clever phrases such as "wheels [that had] lost all memory of their shock absorbers." This omniscient point of view also allows both author and reader to look into the private lives of the characters without the need for any particular consciousness. For example, the reader learns about Meenakshi's character not from what she is thinking but rather from her actions and words. There is no internalizing of Meenakshi's character, but after discovering her ongoing affair with Billy, the reader hears Meenakshi ask if it is possible to be truly in love with two men at the same time. One of the most effective means of character insight in the novel is through the inclusion of cards and letters. Reading the letters Lata and Haresh write to one another as well as the letters to and from Kabir, a great deal is learned about how the characters actually feel. Conversation is very important in the omniscient point of view. One of the best examples of this in the novel is the slow revelation that Tapan is being sexually harassed at his boarding school. Seth handles this approach very well. There is no sense that a third unnamed character is relating the tale. He allows the reader to feel something like the proverbial fly on the wall, witnessing the progression of the story.

Setting

The setting of the novel is mainly in Purva Pradesh, a fictitious Provence in India. The capital city of the Provence or State, is Brahmpur where the main political action occurs at the State level. Brahmpur is situated on the holy River Ganga and upriver is the attraction called the Barsaat Mahal. The city is home to a major university, very urban shopping areas with movie theaters, parks, and athletic fields for cricket and polo. From Brahmpur, the action of the novel includes the real locations of Calcutta, Delhi, and Banaras. Much of the political campaigning takes place in the Salimpur-cum-Baitar region, an agricultural area populated largely by Muslims. The fictional Barsaat Mahal is based on the famous Taj Mahal in Agra. Its use in the novel represents romance, either budding relationships or melancholy visits over lost love. Two settings—the odoriferous tannery in Brahmpur and the zamindari fields worked by the poor in Salimpur-cum-Baitar— portray the plight of the poor lowest caste people of India. Upscale locations include the mansions of the Nawab Sahib and Mahesh Kapoor as well as the university, the Literary Society, and night spots where only the wealthy can afford to go.

Language and Meaning

The novel, written in English, often seems quaint to readers not familiar with the language as spoken by the people of India. Scattered throughout the novel are vocabulary words that are of Hindi or Muslim origin. These words are sometimes terms that do not translate easily into English such as "zamindari" or they are specific names of Hindu or Muslim holidays or acts of worship. Although some of the language sends readers rushing to unabridged dictionaries, the general meaning is usually clear from the context. Seth seems to enjoy plays on words and uses the Chatterji family as a means of toying with vocabulary. Seth uses some interesting metaphors in the novel (e.g., "...it would undo the threads of her good will with the blind torque of distaste." Part 9.12, page 628). Language also helps to clarify and describe the characters. Although essential to the plot, there are two areas where Seth uses minimal language to hurry over the subjects of homosexuality and suicide. He tends to use inference rather than blunt description in these cases. In spite of the idioms and unusual choices of words, the language of the novel is easy to read.

Structure

The structure of the novel is chronological divided into 19 Parts with enumerated sections within each Part. Generally speaking, the numbered sections within each Part indicate a passage of time, but occasionally they indicate a shift in subject matter. A weakness of the novel in terms of structure is the sheer length of the work. Scenes which could have been abbreviated or left out entirely seem to ramble on and on in unimportant details. As each Part of the novel travels in chronological order, it begins to read like the diary of an omniscient eye which could be boring except for the fact that Seth always manages to include some point of reference that captures the reader's attention. Where the structure of the novel seems to stumble over itself lies in the effort to weave the themes of social change into the political conflicts in the early stages of post-colonialism and post-Partition. Since finding a "suitable boy" for Lata is the main theme of the novel, there are times when it seems that it will never happen. Certain assumptions by Seth also complicate the structure of the work (e.g., an assumption of universal understanding of Hindu and Muslim holidays and tradition).

This section contains 884 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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