I finished reading a book today, an act not worthy of mention if it were not for the book’s length: 1,474 pages of small type. Not only was its length a challenge, so was its weight. The title of the book to which I devoted two entire months is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I picked it up in a used bookstore for $8.50. The setting was India, one of my favorite spots for a novel to take place. And on a cost-per-page basis it was clearly a bargain. I’m mentioning these two factors as possible excuses for my temporary insanity in purchasing it. The back of the book describes it as a love story that is set in the 1950’s shortly after India became independent of Britain, “love” being used generously to describe love among family and friends, love of profession, love of religion, and love of country and traditions.
It was easy to get through the first 300-400 pages. The quality of writing was good, the period in history interesting, and the portrayal of Indian culture vivid. By the time I reached page 600, despite my waning interest in the character’s lives, I felt like I had invested too much time in it to quit. I knew that my attitude had deteriorated when on page 795, as the multitudes were making an annual pilgrimage to the Ganges to meet with their particular guru among the dozens of holy men who held court there every year, 1,000 were crushed when the crowd panicked and I said to myself, finally something interesting is happening. After the bodies were burned I brushed past large sections on the significant nation-building events of the time, though I did pause to read of Ghandi‘s death and the ups and downs of Jawaharlal Nehru‘s political career.
More mayhem and a near murder in the last 250 pages, coupled with the resolution of the fates of many of the characters, kept me going until the end. What a feeling of freedom when I closed the book for the last time. It’s like retirement from a job all over again in that I have reclaimed my evening hours before bedtime. I checked the page count of several books awaiting me: 176 , 228, and 315, respectively. These don’t seem excessively long, but at this point I’m leaning towards magazine articles, pamphlets, and the promotional flyers tucked inside the newspaper.