Book Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Book 85

The god of small things

The God of Small Things explores the tragic fate of a family which “tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how.” They are an eclectic mix: grandmother Mammachi; her spoilt Anglophile son, Chacko; her daughter Ammu; Ammu’s inseparable twins Estha and Rahel; and Baby Kochamma, grand-aunt, determined to spread the bitter seeds of her early disappointment in love. In her first novel, award-winning Indian screenwriter Arundhati Roy conjures a whoosh of wordplay that rises from the pages like a brilliant jazz improvisation. The God of Small Things is nominally the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and the rest of their family, but the book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry. The God of Small Things is at once exotic and familiar to the Western reader, written in an English that’s completely new and invigorated by the Asian Indian influences of culture and language.

Until I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie earlier this year I had never read a book by an Indian author before.  As interesting as Midnight’s Children was, the writing style really got in the way of my being able to enjoy the story and it made me apprehensive about reading another book by an Indian author.  But the whole point of this challenge I am undertaking is to broaden my horizons when it comes to literature and step out of my comfort zone so I told myself not to judge this book too quickly and keep an open mind.

The God of Small Things does have similarities to Midnight’s Children.  Both books at set in the past when the protagonists are children, but continually move back to the present which is set after the major event of the book has occurred.  Both books drip feed you information which form pieces of the puzzle, building up towards the event the book is based on.  They both have a variety of interesting characters that surround the protagonists who you are slowly introduced to one by one as the chapters progress.  They also both covers some less appealing and sometimes difficult topics and they both toe the line between soberness and humour at the same time.  However if I was to pick a book from the two, The God of Small Things would win hands down.

What I liked about this book: It is one of the best written books I have read for a while.  The language is not overdone and the combination of a story that could have happened in any country in that time period mixed with the strong Indian culture surrounding it makes for an interesting and compelling read.  The characters are portrayed as three-dimensional people who all contribute in their own way to the major events of the book.  The book is funny throughout, with humour occurring at the unlikeliest moments, but there is this underlying sense of dread that builds with the tension of the story as move through the book.   In this book the storyline flows; there is no interruptions and every change in direction just adds to the intrigue of the story.  Unlike Midnight’s Children, the constant moving back to the present adds to the storyline rather than detracting from it.

What I didn’t like about this book: I cannot say there is anything I did not like about this book, but it was at times an uncomfortable read due to the subject matter involved.  It opened my eyes to the inherent racism built into Indian culture with the caste system, which still occurs today, and also showed me some of the other prejudices that were rife in India at that time.  It is a sad story which is made clear from the start, but you cannot help but stick with it despite the inevitability of the book.

This is such an interesting book for too many reasons to list here.  The storyline itself when laid out chronologically is not necessarily that complicated, but due to the non-linear structure of the storyline and the pace that builds as the book draws to its conclusion, you never get bored.  It is definitely a book I could read again and still appreciate all of the rich details within its covers. I would recommend this to any reader, whether you like to read a book in one sitting or just pick it up every now and again; I’m positive you couldn’t fail to find this book interesting.

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2 comments on “Book Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

  1. Being Indian, I have to say that there are a limited number of books by Indian authors out there which truly impact you. However, you must give ‘An Equal Music’, by Vikram Seth a try. The setting of the book has nothing to do with India, but it is beautifully written.

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