Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things is a much reviewed, much discussed book. Everyone seems to have read it, and everybody has differing views on it. I had read it when Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for it, and I remember being vaguely intimidated by the novel. I do not know now why it should have had that effect on me. Moreover, I did not even remember what it was about. If I remember right, I had borrowed it from somebody and had to return the book very quickly, so I just rushed through it.

Anyway, I got the chance to read it again. I still don't know if I like it or not, but it has affected me deeply.

The story is told as seen from the eyes of seven-year-old Rahel. She, and her twin Estha are typical Indian kids. They have the run about the old, ancestral home in Ayemenem, a village in Kerala. They have come back there to Ayemenem, unwelcome, with their mother, Ammu, a divorcee. The story revolves around the twins, the high point in their lives being the arrival of their cousin Sophie Mol from London. The story moves back and forth through time, and the shadow of "The Terror" lurks in every page. Even as you are getting comfortable in the happy child play of the adorable twins, there appears the dark, foreboding figure of The Terror . As you read, A.Roy drops hints here and there of what the Terror is. You can guess what it is by and by, just as all the pieces fall in place one by one, like a jigsaw puzzle. And what a jigsaw puzzle! Intricate, dense, crammed with images. The novel is more about the characters and the settings, than about the actual story. The story , as such, is very little, but heartbreaking, and it totally changes all the lives in that old house in the little village.

The characters are larger than life. I could identify with the kids so well, right down to Rahel's hair in a "fountain", tied with a Love-in-Tokyo, and her feet in brown Bata sandals. I mean, how much clearer can the character get? Their thoughts, fears, fantasies, are all very real, very true. The entire story is told in the high imagination of the young mind. The imagery is detailed, intense. Sometimes too much to bear. Just as the suspense builds up, and you start reading faster and faster, A.Roy comes up with a detailed explanation of some totally unrelated thing, which slows down the pace, throws you off-balance and makes you lose your patience. There are a series of anti-climaxes like this scattered throughout the story. Yes, the explanation of that thing, if you read it with patience, is usually very good. She notices small things, observes intricacies of human nature and behaviour, which you would have seen, but taken for granted. That talent is abundant in her writing.

But yes, she goes overboard at times. I felt that the novel was like a lady decked up in all her jewellery. Each and every piece of jewellery she owns. The jewels might be beautiful when worn in moderation, but altogether - sometimes it gets nauseating. Maybe she knew she would be writing only one novel, so she poured everything into this! Just like a lonely lady who knows she will be invited to only one party and wears all her jewels for that one party! [Help! I am becoming like A. Roy!]

One more grouse - or should I call it that - I have against her is her excessive use of non-English. There is poetic license, and there is A. Roy. Just one example - "Scurrying hurrying buying selling luggage trundling porter paying children shitting people spitting coming going begging bargaining reservation-checking. Echoing stationsounds.". This is totally not English - these are random words thrown together. As a stickler for good English, repeated use of such language made me uncomfortable. But you know what, it works. That whole sentence conjures up the familiar railway station image so well, that it is astounding. One more example -' "Stoppit", said Ammu, and Rahel Stoppited.' - It is like A. Roy thought, "This is funny and conveys what it wants to. The English be damned." Makes me wonder!

The whole story has been woven together as if in a hazy daze - it has the nature of a disturbing dream during an afternoon nap on a very hot summer day. It is like you are asleep and dreaming, but you are aware of what is going on around you. In short, it is like you are hallucinating. That's it. The entire story is like a string of Hallucinations!


Global Indian said...

hmm.. this novel brings back some nightmares!!

In one of our 'English' classes, where each group is supposed to review a book. And unfortunately, the book is decided by the teacher. And our group ended up with 'The God of Small Things'. Our group had tough time reading the novel. Each one ended up covering two chapters. And throwing out a review for the sake of it. And this novel being one of the favourites of our teacher, she ended up scolding the team like hell. And then, a girl in the group starts crying. The teacher does a volte face, stops scolding, starts consoling and 'appreciating' our work.

Supremus said...

Beautiful review!!

...On what is one of my favorite books! I was just floored by this book, especially the last 50 pages where it all starts coming together. The part where estha (or is it rahel) and mum seperate at railway station is simply heart breaking.

More than anything else, I loved the prose - yes, the exact kind of english she used in the book without giving a damn lol - but it was so expressive!!

If you like this book, try reading her essays from Outlook and other sources - she is one fierce speaker and a orator. I dont necessarily agree with her views, but she definitely writes/speaks with force.

Great review - I remember my review on this book long ago - must put it up on my blog sometime.... Keep them coming!


Bhupi said...

u confused it. I don't think I'm ever gonna read it.

I could identify with the kids so well, right down to Rahel's hair in a "fountain", tied with a Love-in-Tokyo, and her feet in brown Bata sandals

I could not identify anything from this....how do u ties hair in a fountain???whats love-in-tokyo??? yeah bata sandals i know.

Shruthi said...

@Ravi: Heh heh thats funny! And I was wondering how each of you could read two chapters and come up with a whole review - especially for this book, its so difficult! :))

@Suyog: Hey thanks! I am sure your review will be great - do put it up on ur blog soon! Yes, the separation of Estha and Ammu made me weep :(

@Bhupi: Yaar Bhupi, even if I had not reviewed this novel, you would not have read it - I know you :D. I said I identified with Rahel, doesn't mean that the rest of India does too! ;) This is a very personal review - and you should read the book to know what I mean - which I know you won't, anyway! :))

Anil.kumar03@gmail.com said...

shruti :

a pretty good personal review. i did read the novel and somehow could not give much credit to the book, for it had gone into a little too much details, which I would have loved had I been a kid, but not at this age for there isnt anything new in those small discription. i know east is east, you dont have to write that sentence.

and the story was not much gripping except that the details were told from a point of a kid and maybe that can justify those teeny-tiny details in the novel.

I personall prefer Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books.

Anonymous said...

Nice review on the whole. I had similar thoughts too, especially about the "going overboard" part :-)

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Great review, Shruthi!

But unfortunately, I could not read through the book when I started. As you put it, it seemed to drag.

But your review was good. Will look forward to more reviews from you.

Manasi said...

Nice review Shruthi. I have tried reading the book a couple of times but could not get beyond the first few pages. No matter what time of the day it read it, I fell asleep after a couple of pages.
Anyways reading your review I think I will try reading it once again. I hope I dont doze off again.

Shruthi said...

@Anil: Yes, you are right. Too many details! and yes, the story is not gripping either, but the way it is written is gripping, according to me!

@voice within : Ain't it! :) Thanks!

@Sudipta: Hmm yes I can understand that, i am not surprised!

@Manasi: Ha ha :) Maybe you should try to review and come up with a cool review :)

Anonymous said...

Shruthi, pretty good review. What I like about the novel is that Arundhati Roy invents her own idiom and uses it effectively to develop a tiny thread of a story. 'The terror' is just an ordinary one-off incident, but Roy quite successfully weaves it through her 'new language' and details, into a good novel. The points you make about 'non-English' usage. I don't find any problem with that. In fact, it was something new and fresh in Indian writing. All in all, it was a good novel; but overrated still.

Sri Harsha said...


Wht's with the book reviews all of a sudden?

Not my cup of tea!

Shruthi said...

@Sanket: You have written a mini-review right here! good one :) As I said, her non-English works, and maybe that's what matters. Yes, I am uncomfortable with it, but I understood it anyway!

@Harsha: Oops! You will keep finding many more of these here - books are my passion!

Sri Harsha said...



Raj said...

I came close to reading it once but my dislike for Roy stopped me. I wrote about it on my blog recently.

Ranjit Nair said...

How can I not comment on this post on one of my all-time favourite books?

There are so many great (know am not being objective here, but who cares!) passages - the ones about Kathakali artists, about communism in Kerala, about the invasion of 'cable-TV', about the lady being killed by the reversing truck (heh!) - too many to list. As you might infer, am madly in love with this book.

Also loved:

* irony of the shunned low-caste being named Velutha (gora) !

* how A.Roy succeeds in making us look at Ammu through Rahel's eyes (the scene where she turns away at disgust at Ammu spitting is heart-rendingly repugnant, somehow).

* how Velutha is crushed by the boots of the policemen :(.

Oh, I do so love this book !!!

Shruthi said...

@Harsha: ;) Peace too :)

@Raj: Hmmm... you are not the first one who said that!

@Ranjit: Wow.... here is someone who loves the book! Yes, I particularly liked the irony of the incident of Miss Mitten dying from a reversing truck. :)

Mind Curry said...

someone special gave me the book to read. and i was totally absorbed by roy's writing. i think shes a very talented and powerful writer. ended up reading twice after getting my own copy.

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