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Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel A Suitable Boy is (checks copy) 1,398 pages long. Mira Nair’s 2020 mini-series version of it is (pulls out adding machine) 352 minutes long. That’s (incorrectly guesses what division symbol looks like) 3.97159091 pages per minute! I’ve waited (uses all fingers and toes plus two of the hound dog’s paws) almost 30 years for an adaptation of this thing to come to fruition in one format or another and I’m tremendously relieved to tell you that it was just about worth the wait.

Nair (and screenwriter Andrew Davies) correctly deduce what Seth was up to: nesting a simple “who will she end up with” story inside a tangled multi-family, multi-class, multi-generational epic set in India immediately following its independence. And it really is simple: will widowed Mrs. Rupa Mehra (she knits!) find a husband for Lata, her university-student daughter, after being disappointed by the marital fates of her other children? Will Lata have a mind of her own when it comes to whom and how she marries? Will either woman find the titular suitable boy? (The title is actually a little ambiguous; there’s a case to be made that it refers to another character altogether, but I’ll shut up about that for now.)

It’s one of the most expensive productions ever made by the BBC, and I think it shows; every frame is jammed with period detail and to call it “lush” would be the understatement of the year. Some details aren’t as immediately visible but are sometimes more telling; in a single episode, you see three very different characters reading three very different books: the Quran, Thomas Hardy and Mickey Spillane. And in case you missed my newsletter about such things (I don’t have a newsletter), any opportunity to see the great Tabu in anything is an opportunity you should never, ever pass up.

In the transition from page to screen, Nair and Davies omit pages and pages (and pages and pages) of politics, and several narrative strands from the novel’s plot have disappeared completely. A huge chunk of Seth’s scrupulously detailed research gets tossed as well, although I was relieved that a bit of the excruciating, delightfully detailed twenty-page primer on how to make a leather shoe made the final cut. 

But the basic story emerges from the book-to-television transition relatively intact. While I do think the cuts end up scaling the story down (and lightening it up, though it maintains the book’s darker turn in the final third) a little too much for its six-hour length, that sounds more critical than I intend; it’s still been a thrill to watch, if only for the way the at-its-heart simple story unfolds as pleasurably and skillfully as in any Dickens doorstopper.

Vikram Seth’s long-promised sequel to A Suitable Boy—titled (wait for it…) A Suitable Girl—is a decade overdue. Each new year brings rumors and promises of its impending publication, and each year flips to the next with no A Suitable Girl. I’m not sure we’ll ever see it. But in the meantime, this adaptation of A Suitable Boy is suitable enough.

Currently streaming on Acorn, due on PBS later this year…I think.  

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About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.


  • How did I miss that this had come out? Like you, DG, I adored the book, especially for details like how to make a shoe. I’ve read it at least four times. (I never knew I was supposed to be waiting for a sequel either).

    Since you say it’s more or less worth it I will give it a whirl next time I decide to watch some TV. Thanks.

  • Looks interesting. I will wait for it on PBS (one of my favorite channels) or look for it at my wonderful public library. Don’t know if I can handle the length of the book.

  • You’ve been spot on with your other recommendations. I’ll have to check this out. Thank you so much!

  • Woke up at 6am with a massive allergy headache; DG’s movie review/summary is the perfect to make me chuckle for at least a bit. Thank you!

  • Decades ago, so it seems, a friend told me about this novel. I got it from the library: a book approximately the size of a cinder block, and hauled it about with me all summer. I loved the series, but now realize that I probably need to re-read the book as my understanding of Indias history is much greater now than it was in that long ago summer. But this time I will put it on my Kindle; I am too old now to carry about another cinder block.

  • Don’t have a blog?…..pity

    • Years ago I listened to it on BBC4 radio. Loved it. I bought the book. I’m on the couch right at this moment looking at it on the shelf. Unread. Too big to even hold. TV show is wonderful.

  • Oh my gosh! I loved this book so much and I had no idea they made this into a series! I’ve been waiting for the “sequel” ever since I read it years ago and it keeps getting delayed like you said. Will be excited to check this out.

  • I don’t have Acorn but will watch for it on PBS. I read the book about six years ago. Quite a feat.

  • ANY book by Vikram Seth is worth reading (The Golden Gate – a novel set in SF written entirely in sonnets!). I’m two episodes into the series and I’m enjoying it, although I don’t find it quite as engrossing as the book – not binging, just an episode every few nights. And I second your recommendation about Tabu – she’s amazing in anything she’s in. Western viewers might know her best as the mother in the movie adaptation of The Namesake.

    • Oh, it’s nowhere in the book’s territory richness-wise, I agree — and even though it maintains some of the more serious plot turns towards the end, it feels a little gravitas-free — but it’s still very very pleasurable. The Namesake is also directed by Mira Nair, as is the great near-classic Monsoon Wedding, which is the best thing she’s ever done by quite some distance I think. She can be uneven (the Amelia Earhart movie springs to mind), but when she’s on, she’s ON.

  • There is an audio version of the book on if anyone enjoys to listen

  • Hrmmmm… Sounds like a cross between Middlesex (history of an entire group of people in a novel “about” one character) and Infinite Jest (wildly long and ranging), maybe with a thematic cousin in Fiddler on the Roof… Might have to get the book.

    • Far more traditional than either of those books; it’s consciously modeled on Victorian-era multi-volume novels.

      • Well, I always hated Dickens, but I had a tremendous amount of fun reading Wilkie Collins “The Moonstone” last summer. Maybe I’ll *try* the book and see if I need to fast forward to just watching 😉

  • The pandemic prompted an Acorn subscription. First up was Land Girls (excellent!) and second was A Suitable Boy. Finished on Friday and still mesmerized by the colors and the sense of family. A definite winner.

  • I read the book when it first came out and thought it was great (yes, it’s a tome). Apparently Vikram Seth kept a Post It grid to track all the characters. It was fascinating to me because I was born some 25 years after India’s independence and it felt like a bygone era. (I mean, 1990 is a bygone era, think about it.)

    Tabu is a marvelous actress. Anything featuring her is worth watching.

  • Yes – this series was WONDERFUL! A Vancouver Public Library card gives access to Acorn programming and so I was able to “check it out” literally.

    • I read the book when it first came out. Vikram Seth kept me completely hooked to the book and for many years I told my very dear husband ( my suitable boy) that if any one should ever make a movie then it should be Mira Nair. And I was the happiest when I heard her attempt at creating this 6 part series. As I live in USA I had to wait until it was released on ACORN BBC and I have watched every episode for the past 6 Mondays as it was being released sequentially. Mira knows how to capture Indian literature on camera. I have loved watching the episodes again just to enjoy the 1951 details of very recent post independent India . What a sight to my sore eyes.. just spectacular direction and transcending the words of Vikram on to screen with such finesse!! Enjoy!

  • One of my FAVORITE BOOKS EVER! Do NOT be I to it dated by the length. The chapters are just a few pages long, which makes it perfect bedtime reading, IF you can stop at one chapter. I learned so much from this book, and loved every minute of it.

    Because I’m me, that means I won’t watch. If I love the book I prefer keeping it as I imagined it.

    Enjoy Everyone!

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