The longest, single-volume, book I think I have read is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, which Amazon lists as 1,504 pages and Goodreads has at 1,492.
I actually read some, listened to some, then read some again, as I started this book whilst I was on a summer holiday in France with my parents. About a week into the holiday I lay the book down, splayed open at the page I was on – which I never, ever do. I had a high temperature, and a headache, and thought I’d just stop reading for a few minutes to give my eyes a rest. That day I was blue-lighted to hospital, where it turned out I had (viral) meningitis and was stuck for two weeks while they fought to get my temperature back under control.
The hospital had no facilities for parents, but I was only 14 and my mum wouldn’t leave my side, so she sat in a highback armchair by my bed, day and night. My eyes hurt too much to read and I was all hooked up to an IV at all times, so couldn’t really do anything else either. So my poor mother spent the time alternating between dozing uncomfortably upright, and reading aloud to me about Lata’s search to find the right match, among three main contenders for her hand.
Blurb: A modern classic, this epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue never loses its power to delight and enchant readers.
Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.
As the story progressed, we eagerly discussed who we thought Lata should choose, and our different choices were pretty revealing. My mum championed the grand passion, regardless of caste or religion, whereas I (sensibly, in my opinion) backed the old, familiar friend with whom she had so much in common and felt comfortable. We also hotly debated our favourite and least-favourite side characters, and how different the cultural norms presented were from what we were used to.
Eventually I was released from hospital to finish my convalescence at home, and took the book back to finish reading myself (my mum had already read it, so the discussions continued). The ending was particularly hotly contested between us, and neither could claim we were completely satisfied with it, yet somehow we did both agree that we could see why Lata chose the future she did.
25 years later my mum’s copy of that book still falls open on the page I splayed it on the day I set it down. Which I think says more about the weight of that tome than anything else!