Monday, 1 February 2010

Book: A SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth

I read a lot, and I thought it would be interesting to keep a record of what I read, at least for this year 2010. Because reading is something I do on my own time, and for no particular reason, it's easy to think of it as unimportant. But obviously what you do on your own time and for no particular reason is actually sadly definitely your real life. So I thought it would be interesting to see how I'm spending some part of my real life. I'd like to give it a little bit of reality in it's own little blog.

So I started the year on page 700 of A SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth. Which is pretty awesome. I deliberately stopped reading the night before- well it wasn't that much effort, it was quite convenient actually - on pg 699, so I could begin on nice fresh round numbers. I was on holiday for three weeks in Kenya, and I had brought a big book with me. I actually spent some time choosing the book. I had massive lay overs, blah blah, and I HATE running out of stuff to read. God, then I might have to be alone with my thoughts, and we don't want that. So I bought this book off Amazon for less than the p&p. If you keep reading this blog, and if I keep it up, you'll see this is unusual for me. I virtually never buy books, and certainly not from online sellers. One thing that might make my reading interesting is that it's largely driven by what's in Southwark libraries. There's no way I can afford to keep up my reading habit, nor would I want to: I can't imagine storing all those books. And I wouldn't like to have to remember books I want to forget. Plus, I don't really like books I've read lying about looking at me, unless I really loved them. Only books I love get to stay at my house.

So A SUITABLE BOY. As it was kind of a big commitment - I couldnt just give up if I got bored - I actually looked it up on the internet. I never do this, and I've discovered this is with good reason. What the hell? People on forums have got some stupid ass opinions. So have people on blogs, I guess. People were all like: why is there so much about Indian politics, about shoes, about land, etc etc. Have these people never heard of a state of the nation novel? Have they never read a Victorian novel?

So anyway, I liked it. It was absorbing. I can't say I loved it. I appreciated what he was trying to do - give a kind of literary life to India, on a massive scale. As a fellow citizen of the old Empire - I'm Zimbabwean - I totally admire and respect that impulse. But I have to say, and this is a sort of hard: I just felt that he did it well, but it's been done far, far better. It was interesting while I read it, I was engaged in Lata's love story (do we believe who she chooses in the end? Jury's out, I think), I learnt a lot about India, and about Pakistan, which was enjoyable, but will I remember it? Don't think so. I'll forget about it. Not in a horrid way, but just in a - oh well - there it goes, like a meal in a chain restaurant kind of way.

For me it's a big like Lord of the Rings in that way. I enjoyed it, which is nice, but it's a bit so what. I didn't feel that the most important part of me gained anything from it. Though, as I said, I admired that claiming a British form - the Victorian novel - for the rest of the world. That's a very hard thing to do. I'd love to do it for Zimbabwe, but let's face it, it's hard. As we see from Seth's very good effort. I mean obviously for me it'd be hard, as I'm not a writer (I work in the theatre) - but for anyone. It's very hard I think to decolonise the mind, and give our own people the space they need. I was talking about the difficulties of expressing the diasporic Zimbabwean experience to a British person the other day, saying how few examples of Zim memoir there are, and then I realised: imagine being British! Not only are there thousands of examples, but some of them are Shakespeare! Now that's difficult.

Alright, enough for now. I'll be back tomorrow with the wildly unrelated David Sedaris' WHEN I AM ENGULFED IN FLAMES. I am just catching up as I'm only just beginning . . .

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