Tuesday, January 16, 2007

#4 - The God Of Small Things

Arundhati's Roy's first novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize in 1997, which I'm assuming is one of the reasons why it was included in the 1001 Books list (I'm at 122! whee!). Set in Kerala, India primarily in 1969 and moving through the odd flash-forward to present-day (1996), the novel tells the story of two different-egg twins Estha and Rahel before, during and after the tragic death of their British cousin, Sophie Mol.

Told in a narrative style that is frustrating to say the least, Roy's brilliance comes in spurts, where she puts words together in such a fashion that yes, her prose comes close to my heartbreak test, but on the whole, I felt like I was walking through mud while reading this novel. Lovely thoughts about loneliness, the meaning of family and the implication of the caste system permeate the novel as Estha and Rahel discover that life can absolutely change irrevocably in a day, and that one event can stain your entire existence. After Sophie Mol dies, the twins, now separated, wander through life feeling half-whole, disjointed and totally ruined by the emotional damage inflicted upon them.

There's no coherent story, but you get a sense of the events from Roy's vignettes, each told in a very child-like tone: the twins are born into a bad marriage, their flighty, beautiful, but damaged mother takes them back to her mother's house, where they live with their uncle and their great-aunt, their uncle's ex-wife comes to visit from Britain bringing along their beautiful, sand-coloured cousin, said cousin dies tragically, their mother's affair with a Paravan is revealed, his life forever changed, she's shunned, one of the twins must go live with their father, the other becomes totally lost.

But you piece together the events like a puzzle as the novel moves backwards and forwards towards the penultimate event: Sophie Mol's death. The final, deep, dark tragedy, of what happens when the romantic relationship between Ammu, their mother, and Velutha, the Paravan, becomes public knowledge, is an offering from Roy to her own gods of small things, the rights and wrongs of the world, of how love isn't always magical and sometimes simply doesn't change anything, and how some people just become lost in their lives at any age.

Part of my own goals with this Around the World in 52 Books project is to experience the literature of other countries, in this case, India, to feel the sights and the sounds, to breathe in the air a bit differently, and the novel truly accomplishes that—I got a real sense of the surroundings, of Kerala, and of the social and political differences between the characters in the book. Am I glad I read this novel, yes, but would I highly recommend it, probably not, but that doesn't mean someone else wouldn't be totally enthralled by the magical, almost mystical, non-linear storytelling.


Kerry said...

After I read this book, I unconciously decided I never wanted to read another book written by anyone who wasn't British, Canadian or American. I'm glad I've had my mind changed since. Have you read "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri? It's absolutely brilliant.

Kailana said...

This book is on my list of books to read this year because I haven't read it yet. I have owned it forever.