Boyd Tonkin: An author impossible to confine to a single genre

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The Independent Online

At first glance, the news that Vikram Seth will, in four years, reprise his much-loved but muscle-straining saga A Suitable Boy with a sequel confirms the major plot-line in the book business just now. The recession has meant that, while most established authors are suffering, a small elite of bankable bestsellers is doing as well – or better – than ever. A rock-solid sales record can still open doors and wallets.

Yet Seth's other books – never in the same commercial league - have shown this supremely versatile writer's impatience with a career of popular blockbusters.

The millions of readers around the world who sank for pleasurable weeks into Seth's epic of family and public life in post-independence India will thrill to the prospect of a follow-up that brings the tale and characters into the present day. However, the agreement that Seth has struck with Penguin's Hamish Hamilton imprint will also involve books of poetry and essays. Seth has never felt happy when confined to a single genre.

He began in the 1980s with the Chinese-style verse of his poetry collection The Humble Administrator's Garden, and his Himalayan travelogue, From Heaven Lake. The Golden Gate combined poetry and fiction in a virtuoso verse-novel. He has also written fables for children, an intimate novel about chamber musicians, An Equal Music, and an affecting family memoir, Two Lives.

This week's reports will, naturally, centre on the sequel and the deal. Long-term fans of Seth's genre-hopping talents will be just as pleased to note that he has won the chance to showcase his skills in other formats too. Seth paints miniatures as stylishly as panoramas, and Penguin should value his delicacies as much as his doorstops.