Friday, December 13, 2013

REVIEW: The God of Small Things - Arundathi Roy

"Never again will a single story be told as though it's the only one" - John Berger

This epigraph more or less sums up the way this 1997 Booker prize winner has been written. Constantly jumping back and forth in time, it tells the story of a family in Ayemenem, Kerala during a time when Marxism had a cult following, "Anglophilia" was popular among the upper-caste Christian families, families had a centuries-old reputation to safeguard, and although it was legally abolished, the caste system was still in place. It's the story of how one generation suffered because of the previous generation, how the "Love Laws that dictated who should love whom, and by how much" were violated, it's repercussions - how Small Things conspired to make way for the Big Things, and destroyed lives.

I'll tell you this. If you strip this book of the language in which it has been written (it feels like an entirely different language that's been invented), you get the storyline which isn't much. But it's a story nevertheless, and because it been written in a language that's almost poetic dredges up emotion within the reader. Written from Rahel's perspective, one of the two-egg twins (Ambassador S.Insect/Airport Fairy with a fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo), the story starts when Estha (Ambassador E. Presley/Keeper of Secrets/Stirring Wizard with a puff), her twin has been Re-returned, and they reunite after twenty-three years. And along with it comes a baggage of grief that they have carried with them from a past life, involving their mother Ammu and the man she loved by night, the man her children loved by day, Velutha, their English cousin Sophie-mol (Thimble-drinker/Coffin-Cartwheeler), who was loved from the Beginning and the Small Things that led to their deaths. You'll wonder at how those Small Things eventually manipulated things in such a way that they became Big Things. And how Small God was overthrown by Big God.

The language employed to write this makes use of the Malayalam vernacular, Capitalized words, and runningtogether words. The adjectives used, the metaphors and other powerful figures of speech are used to bring emotion in the reader. Almost poetic. The narration is also very different in the fact that it isn't written in a fully progressive or degressive time frame, rather it jumps around: in fact, we know the fates of almost every character before we come to know what led to it. The setting: the Marxists, the believers in casteism, the Anglophiles, gives us a taste of the times another society lived in. The characters have all been beautifully developed, Estha and Rahel in particular.

The only thing that put me off was Estha's and Rahel's incestuous episode, another way in which the Love Laws had been violated. The way that they had been described to fit together "as stack of spoons", or "familiar lovers' bodies" earlier on in the story, should have given me a heads-up in hindsight, but it still caught me unawares. I felt like it was completely unneccessary, just something scandalous to stun readers. If I were the kind of person that can be easily brainwashed, I would have been: Roy justifies the episode almost brilliantly enough throughout the whole book - but I'm not, so it left me disgusted, and felt like it was "desperate" on Roy's behalf.
And I also felt that maybe the narration was a tad too descriptive, a tad too unnecessary - I caught myself drifting in between.

In totality though, the narration is first-rate. Which almost-almost makes up for those things that put me off.

VERDICT: 4 stars

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