Monday, December 16, 2013

I still bear the scars of Middlemarch

'Do you believe in the virtue of compression?' asked a determined academic lady.

'Well, yes,' said Amit warily. The lady was rather fat.

'Why, then, is it rumoured that your forthcoming novel - to be set, I understand, in Bengal is to be so long? More than a thousand pages!' she exclaimed reproachfully, as if he were personally responsible for the nervous exhaustion of some future dissertationist.

'Oh, I don't know how it grew to be so long,' said Amit. 'I'm very undisciplined. But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they're bad, they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they're good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch."

'How about Proust?" asked a distracted-looking lady, who had begun knitting the moment the poems stopped.

Amit was surprised that anyone read Proust in Brahmpur. He had begun to feel rather happy, as if he had breathed in too much oxygen.

'I'm sure I'd love Proust,' he replied, 'if my mind was more like the Sundarbans: meandering, all-absorptive, endlessly, er, sub-reticulated. But as it is, Proust makes me weep, weep, weep with boredom. Weep,' he added. He paused and sighed. 'Weep, weep, weep,' he continued emphatically. 'I weep when I read Proust, and I read very little of him."

There was a shocked silence: why should anyone feel so strongly about anything? It was broken by Professor Mishra.

'Needless to say, many of the most lasting monuments of literature are rather, well, bulky.' He smiled at Amit. 'Shakespeare is not merely great but grand, as it were.'

'But only as it were,' said Amit. 'He only looks big in bulk. And I have my own way of reducing that bulk,' he confided. "you may have noticed that in a typical Collected Shakespeare all the plays start on the right-hand side. Sometimes, the editors bung a picture in on the left to force them to do so. Well, what I do is to take my pen-knife and slit the whole book up into forty or so fascicles. That way I can roll up Hamlet or Timon - and slip them into my pocket. And when I'm wandering around - in a cemetery, say - I can take them out and read them. It's easy on the mind and on the wrists. I recommend it to everyone. I read Cymbeline in just that way on the train here; and I never would have otherwise.'

Kabir smiled, Lata burst out laughing, Pran was appalled, Mr Makhijani gaped and Mr Nowrojee looked as if he were about to faint dead away.

--Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy


  1. Marvelous excerpt! I have to get around to reading this book sometime!

  2. I just started reading this last week! I'm reading with a coworker -- we set up a schedule to finish by May but I think I may read it all on my xmas break. This quote is lovely and has me all excited about this book!

  3. So are you doing the Dovegreyreader thing? I did buy a copy, but I must admit I'm put off by the size.:) Usually I love Indian novels, but, alas, I'm STILL rereading War and Peace, so this one will have to sit there.

    I'm so glad you're posting again.

  4. Oops, and I must admit I'm not Mad Housewife anymore. I am now Mirabile Dictu. I pushed the wrong button!

  5. While my original intentions were to (silently) read along with the dovegrey crowd, I 1)started a month late; 2)convinced a friend to read it with me; 3)turned into a social moron over the last couple of weeks to finish the entire thing even though my friend had kindly waited for me to read other books while she read at a slower pace to accommodate me. I am evidently not be trusted.

    Isabella, I would try to read most if not all of it over the break so you can keep the characters straight. Stefanie, you may want to wait to start until closer to the release date of the sequel, A Suitable Girl. It's going to be out in 2016 and I. can. not. wait. I have very definite opinions on what had better happen it or I may throw it and do considerable damage.

    Kat, you can finish War and Peace. The chapters are short. Put it in the bathroom.

    I am going to try so hard to get my blogging mojo back in 2014. All three of you are inpirations to me.

  6. I'm getting more and more intrigued.


As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed lar...