Thursday, 25 September 2014

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I finished The God of Small Things yesterday, and decided to sleep on it before I tried to write a review, hoping that might make it clear what I wanted to say.

And I still don't know. I don't know what I thought about this book. I didn't love it - it's not one I'll rush out and tell all my friends about. Yet it was full of felicitous turns of phrase that I enjoyed very much.

The God Of Small Things is about a family in India in the mid-twentieth century (if my quick wikipedia search about Indian communism leads me to guess the right time period), their wounds, the things they say and don't say, the ways they conform to expectations and defy them, and the consequences, both direct and sudden and unexpected.

The story is very much a spiral around a tragedy, circling in tighter and tighter until the complete picture is revealed, which in the early book is hinted at, but it takes time before different elements interconnect.

And through the spiral cuts the straight line of malice from one character who acts with such petty viciousness that it turns a tragedy into a monstrosity.

This novel is full of damaged characters, all of whom were touched by at least one of the two major events, none of whom has fully come to terms with their actions or inactions. Anything Can Happen To Anyone, and does.

And yet, this is a small story, told by the God of Small Things, with the larger societal and political tragedies populating the background. In a way, the small things that happen in the book happen because of the Large Things, yet they are important to the characters because of their immediate impact, not their larger significance. And none of them can move past the Small Things. And so, in a way, they absent themselves from the Big Things, in ways that remove them from active participation in the world. (Estha's silence, Rahel's remoteness, Baby Kochamma's TV, Chacko's emigration, Ammu's eventual fate.)

This is a difficult book. It isn't light. But it does reward thought. And I think I liked it more than I realized.

Read as part of the BBC Big Read

1 comment:

  1. I liked it less than I realised. To put that another way: I loved it the first time I read it, but only liked and admired it the second time. I think it's just a little heavy-handed, and a little bit too precious in its delicacy of language, if that makes sense. A lot of it felt like the tragedy equivalent of the 'dumn-dum-DAAAHHH' foreboding-music-cue in a thriller/horror: the second time around I often felt myself thinking 'yes, OK, I get it, something horrible is going to happen, just get on with it and tell me about it already'.

    That said, it's still a really impressive book. I think what struck me most was that it was the first book where I really realised that that trite expression, 'creates its own language' could actually be valid. Roy uses repetition of striking images and thoughts to create a shorthand for herself, essentially creating a language of idioms to guide the reader - the example I best remember was the image of Papachi's moth. She introduces it with a story, but then throughout the rest of the book all she needs to do is talk about the moth fluttering its wings and we know exactly how a character is feeling.

    She's also very good at creating a stylistic distinction between the child portions and the adult portions. I think a lot of the melancholy, lamentative feel of the book comes from the loss of innocence that is embodied in that alternation of styles, more than in the actual words she uses.

    Anyway, if you're interested my own review is at <a href=">this address here.</a>