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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK


Vikram Seth tells his story

Vikram Seth's first novel, A Suitable Boy, sold a million copies worldwide - no mean feat for what is one of the longest novels ever written in the English language. But although his writing has brought him fame, he does not enjoy the limelight.

Vikram Seth: "I'm a rather gregarious recluse"
"I'm a recluse but rather a gregarious recluse because I do enjoy parties, I do enjoy people's company," says Vikram Seth. "But I find fame quite irksome."

Born into a wealthy family in Calcutta in 1952, Seth was educated at Oxford, Stanford and Nanjing universities, where he studied economics.

But Seth soon gave up a promising career as an economist to go into "the risky business of writing novels so fat I never thought anyone would read it".

[ image: A Suitable Boy: A
A Suitable Boy: A "monster" of a book, says Seth
He spent the following eight years writing A Suitable Boy, which follows a young girl's search for a husband set against the political backdrop of the newly-independent India of the 1950s.

At a marathon 1300-plus pages, Seth admits that the novel "ran away" from him and "became a monster".

"I thought I would not be able to sell it or if I sold it, it would be to a very small market," says Seth, but the book became an overnight publishing sensation.

Seth, who has already written a novel in verse, five books of poetry and a non-fictional account of his travels through China, is less concerned about the books critical success.

"There's nothing much you can do about that," he says.

"One shouldn't take the eulogies that one gets too seriously nor should one take the worst of the denigration, the truth is somewhere betwixt and between and you can only do the best you can."

[ image: An Equal Music: Dark love story]
An Equal Music: Dark love story
His latest book, An Equal Music, takes a new and much darker direction, following a concert violinist who has a nervous breakdown.

He came up with the idea, whilst walking across London's Hyde Park where he saw a man staring intensely into the water.

Vikram Seth on his new novel
"I began to wonder who he was, what his profession was, what his nationality was and why he was looking at the water with such dark thoughts."

Seth often bases his characters on his own family and doesn't mince his words.

"You cannot get away from writing about difficult subjects and if it involves people getting upset you hope at least they'll understand your motivations in writing about these things.

"I think that they do realise that being a writer I can't gild the lily, or rather gild the cactus."

Vikram Seth: "I am one of the lucky people"
But Seth remains very close to his family and insists that his new found success hasn't changed him or his lifestyle.

"I am one of the lucky people," he says.

"Even at the worst times I thought to myself 'At least I know what I want to do'. How many people in the world know that?"

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