Big Books

A Suitable Boy (1993) by Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy is one of the big books written in English that is published in a single volume, clocking in at 1,349 pages. It is divided into 19 sections, each of which focuses on a different subplot.

During the course of 18 months, the novel follows four families, with the focus on Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s efforts to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, to a “suitable boy.” The novel takes place in a post-independence, post-partition India and begins in the fictitious town of Brahmpur, which is located along the Ganges River in Patna.

As time goes on, Lata chooses to divorce Kabir and marry a “decent” guy she likes but doesn’t love. It’s not only Lata’s tragic choice that makes the story compelling; there are several side tales about family machinations, as well.

The Luminaries (2013) by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries is Eleanor Catton’s historical murder mystery set in the rugged West of New Zealand’s South Island during the 1860s gold rush. It follows prospector Walter Moody as he journeys to the West Coast village of Hokitika in search of gold. After stumbling into a tense gathering amongst twelve local men upon his arrival, he is lured into a convoluted mystery involving a string of unsolved crimes.

Using the astrological system as a framework, the novel’s convoluted structure has each of the novel’s twelve local men representing one of the solar system’s twelve signs of the zodiac, with another set of characters representing each of the planets in between them.

Despite the book’s hefty size (with 832 pages) it has been masterfully constructed to be the ultimate literary page-turner. Each cliffhanger sentence at the end of each chapter in this gripping tale leaves us eagerly awaiting for the following chapter to begin.

Sacred Games (2006) by Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra’s novel Sacred Games revolves around a world-weary cop inspector Sartaj Singh and a larger-than-life boss of criminal underworld Ganesh Gaitonde, India’s most wanted gangster. It’s a story about friendship and betrayal, terrible violence, and an amazing modern city with a dark side.

It takes place on two parallel tracks. One takes you through Mumbai’s (then Bombay’s) criminal underworld in the 1980s and 1990s, while the other takes you through a tense modern-day hunt for the meaning behind a notorious dead gangster’s strange final words.

With 900 pages, the novel is Dickensian in scope and part Godfather in execution. With Bollywood—the world’s largest film industry—, a shady guru, and the ever-present tension between India and Pakistan, you have a full-fledged literary potboiler.

The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) by Michel Faber

Michel Faber’s novel The Crimson Petal and the White is a masterfully plotted examination of the collision between the rich and poor, as exemplified by the complex relationship between would-be writer William Rackham, inheritor of a perfumery’s business empire, and Sugar, a cunning prostitute whose unique erotic abilities enthrall the smitten Rackham.

Sugar is purchased from the brothel and relocated to her own magnificent apartment, where William pays her visits on his own schedule. Because of Sugar’s exceptional commercial acumen, William’s wife, Agnes, gets progressively crazy as William’s fortunes rise with the help of Sugar.

In over 850-page saga, the novel follows Sugar’s rise through the ranks of Victorian London, her fall from grace, and the ways in which she has an impact on a diverse cast of characters throughout the course of the novel.

Further Reading

Why modern books are all too long by Robert McCrum, The Guardian

26 Very Long Books Worth the Time They’ll Take to Read by Boris Kachka, Vulture

The big question: are books getting longer? by Richard Lea, The Guardian

Reading big books – 7 tips to stay motivated until the end by Sachin, Writoscope

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