Sep 27, 2007

The God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy

The God of Small Things is the story of an Indian family, focusing mainly on a pair of twins, Estha and Rahel. In the first few pages of the book, we discover that their childhood was marked by a tragedy: their cousin, Sophie Mol, died in India when she was visiting from England, and this event has shaped their whole lives. What exactly happened that summer, the shape of other tragedies surrounding that one, is slowly revealed throughout the book. Arundathi Roy reveals the mystery bit by bit, and with unbelievable delicacy. The story moves back and forth between the past, the events leading up to and following the tragedy, and the present, when the twins are meeting again for the first time since they were children.

Arundathi Roy is one of the most talented, original and expressive authors I have ever encountered. Her writing is absolutely intoxicating. Her words evoked the Indian landscape perfectly. But it wasn’t just that – the way she evoked childhood with its little fears and mysteries was also remarkable. And the way she evoked grief and loss, and other feelings too subtle to name. Allow me to share a few favourite passages with you:
Once the quietness arrived, it stayed and spread in Estha. It reached out of his head and enfolded him in its swampy arms. It rocked him to the rhythm of an ancient, foetal heartbeat. It sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hovering the knolls and dells of his memory, dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue.
And this passage on storytelling just might be my favourite in the whole book:
It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakli had discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.
Reading this book taught me a few things about the Indian caste system – the Paravans and their lack of rights, and the cultural rules that often govern people’s feelings and private lives – and the political climate at the time the story unfolds. Both these things end up being very important in the story's outcome.

As much as I enjoyed every single sentence of this book, my absolutely favourite part was the last few chapters and the ending, which were beautiful and extremely moving. The solution to the mystery, the answer to the question “what exactly happened that forever changed these people’s lives?” is not too hard to imagine once a certain point in the book is reached. And yet, when it finally came, it had me in tears. I think this is a book that will be even more enjoyable when read for the second time, because once the full story is revealed, all the little details become even more poignant.

I’m afraid that there isn’t much more I can say, because a great part of the beauty of this book is in the way things slowly come together and form a clear picture, like a puzzle in the hands of an eager child. So I’ll just say that I can see why this book is often called a masterpiece and a modern classic. I am very very glad I picked it up at last.

Other Blog Reviews:
Reading Reflections
Lost in a Good Story
Trish's Reading Nook
The Inside Cover
books i done read
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Valentina's Room
Some Reads
Thoughts of Joy
Caribousmom
An Adventure in Reading
Fyrefly's Book Blog

12 comments:

jean pierre said...

it is a beautiful book, isn't it? i'm glad you enjoyed it.

what struck me was how... whats the word... gentle it is. how loving and caring it is, if you know what i mean? even the very words she uses evoked gentleness...

and i like what she does with childhood. i can't be more specific than that, 'cause i read in 2000, but i remember the bits she wrote about childhood were very good and how childhood (or childlikeness) can linger in us. all those rhymes and stuff..

Chris said...

This book sounds beautiful...After your review, JP's comment, and Kim's review, what option do I have left but to read it?? I can't imagine not falling in love with this book. It sounds like one of those rare books that you come away from feeling like a more complete person for having read it. I love books like that. Good to see you reviewing again :)

Rhinoa said...

I have this on my list to read anyway, but now it has definately moved nearer the top. Thanks for the amazing review, I can't wait to get around to it!

Literary Feline said...

I'm sold. I will definitely be adding this one to my wishlist. It sounds like a wonderful book, Nymeth. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Debi said...

Oh my...you're at it again! Your reviews are simply works of art!

This book definitely sounds like a must. It sounds like one of those books that captures your heart and stays with you. I could go for one of those about now.

gautami tripathy said...

I have not read it. A pity. I am going to do it though. She is doing a lot of social work too. Very popular with the masses.

Thanks for this review!

valentina said...

I've just review it too. And although I loved everything that you mentioned, for other reasons I felt that I would have enjoyed it much more if the style was simpler. I kept saying to myself : such potential to be one of my favourites, and yet it isn't. Pity.

I have another book by her to read."The ordinary person's guide to Empire". it's non-fiction and political. I can't wait to read it to compare it with her novel.

I once read a quote from her somewhere. It's beautiful so I want to share it with you:

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing"

Trish said...

Great! This book sounds wonderful--I picked it up recently and will have to move it up in my TBR pile.

cj said...

I second Debi's comment! Your reviews are amazing.

And now I've got another book to add to the pile...

cjh

Nymeth said...

Jean Pierre: It really is. And gentle is the perfect way to describe it.

Chris: I really think you'd like it. This is one of those books one can hardly remain indifferent to.

Rhinoa: And I can't wait to see what you think of it.

Literary Feline: I'm very glad to have brought it to your attention. More people should read this book!

Debi: You are too nice :P And yes, this is certainly a book that stays with you. It's been nearly a week since I finished it, and I still find myself thinking about it quite often.

gautami tripathy: You should read it! I don't know much about Roy, but to have written a book like this she must be remarkable in more than one way.

Valentina: I was forced by external circumstances to read the book very very slowly, and I think that might have helped me to appreciate the style more. I can see how it could become too much in one take. I'm going to read your full review now. I don't know much about the rest of her work, but I agree it must be interesting to see how her non-fiction compares. That is a beautiful quote indeed!

Trish: It really is wonderful. I'm very glad to be encouraging people to read it (or to read it sooner in your case :P)

CJ: Thank you so much. And I don't think you will regret adding this one to the pile.

jenclair said...

I read this years ago and even now it touches me when I think about it. It was beautifully written.

samheet said...

I read this book once, and reading these reviews make me feel back home again. I am an Indian, a social worker in Texas, Arundhati Roy is my hero. She is phenomenal in her book, cant believe it was her first try. The book is touching right from its title to the end. A must read, guys! Happy reading:)

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