A change of sex for the changing times. Vikram Seth has announced that he will be writing A Suitable Girl, a ‘sequel’ to A Suitable Boy, his best-selling, critically acclaimed 1994 novel. Scheduled for publication by Penguin in India in 2013, Seth’s new novel will pick up the story of Lata some 60 years after her mother had been looking for a ‘suitable boy’ for her in post-Independence India. “It wasn’t as if I decided to write a sequel, although there were vague hints in A Suitable Boy that there was unfinished business. Even if my publishers wanted an immediate follow-up, I simply wasn’t inspired enough. It was only after I started wondering about some of the characters again that I decided to write this book.”
Seth’s agent David Godwin has sold world rights (excluding the US) of the still-in-the-writing book to Hamish Hamilton UK for 1.7 million pounds (approx Rs 13.3 crore). Penguin India is launching the Hamish Hamilton imprint in India this July and will therefore do the book in 2013.
While A Suitable Boy had the backdrop of post-Partition India, Hindu-Muslim violence and land reforms, Seth intends to “pixellate” this story with happenings in today’s India (“from 2001 to now, or even later”). “I don’t pick and choose subjects or settings; they pick and choose me. After the publication of The Golden Gate, I was asked why I had a Japanese American character and not an Indian American in it. I said because a Japanese American fitted the part. In any case, the characters will decide the backdrops. I just hope that they choose things interesting.”
What interests — and concerns — Seth about the India of today includes the “mixture of religion and politics”, and the economic success story in which “the countryside is being left behind”. “China is always talked about in the context of India these days. That doesn’t interest me at all,” says Seth, who speaks Mandarin fluently and conducted field studies across China in the 80s for an intended doctoral thesis.
So will A Suitable Girl be as thick a brick like its predecessor? “No, it’ll be a small haiku,” he says with a laugh. “Maybe it can be texted over the mobile phone”.