x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

An unsuitable delay

A long novel has a long gestation time but Vikram Seth's publisher has decided that too much time is enough.

The success of Vikram Seth's 1993 novel A Suitable Boy prompted feverish interest in its proposed sequel. Provisionally titled A Suitable Girl, the rights to the second instalment were acquired by the British publisher Hamish Hamilton in 2009, who advanced $1.7m to the author.

That figure represented a suitably large figure for what was likely to be a suitably large novel. A Suitable Boy was a hefty 1,349 pages, pushing it firmly into the realms of heavyweight fiction. There was no reason to doubt its sequel would be anything less than a doorstopper too.

Four years after Seth bagged his large advance, Hamish Hamilton's newly formed parent company - Penguin Random House - are not at all happy. With A Suitable Girl's manuscript nowhere to be seen, they've asked for their money back.

There are, however, mitigating circumstances for its non-arrival. Seth, who describes himself as both obsessive and lazy, took eight years to deliver A Suitable Boy and hasn't published any new fiction since 1999.

In truth, the reader might actually be the winner here. When it does arrive, A Suitable Girl will doubtless be, in sheer weight alone, another big read. Who has the time these days to wade through 1,400 pages? That's an awful lot of bedtimes.