The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is the book club’s book for the month of March and though I would have loved to participate in their monthly book discussion which was moderated by my good friend, Monique, for now I will just content myself with reading blog posts about the event such as this.
Summary from Goodreads:
The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river…
I was prepared to really like this book. It seemed that this is a popular favorite among most of my friends from college and high school, if my Facebook post about this book was to be believed. Plus, of course, that the cover of my copy boasts that what I have on my hands is Booker Prize winner.
The story begins with Rahel, the other half of the fraternal twins of Ammu and Babba, returning to the Ayemenem house in Kerala, India after being away for many years. She and her twin, Estha, are now 31 years old: not old, not young, but a viable, die-able age. The first chapter sways back and forth in time (which is true to the entire book, as I will soon discover). The flashbacks are set in 1969 when India was on the verge of embracing Communism while the present (1993) portrays the households of India being invaded by the television culture, the slowly disintegrating Ayemenem house included.
What I loved about The God of Small Things was the way the plot was weaved. Despite the relative shortness of the novel, the story was able to cover numerous themes: family dynamics, Indian history and culture, romantic love, grief, and loss, to name the basics. What sparse knowledge I had gained (mostly from watching Bollywood movies) about Indian history was enriched and I really liked how the main story arc centered on the Indian caste system. I had several complaints, however. The sudden shifts in timeline, for instance, kept confusing me until the last couple of chapters. There were instances that I thought I was reading about the 31 year-old Rahel, only to find out that it was about her 7-year old self. Also, since the narrative was told in the third person, I also had a bit of difficulty in getting attached to a particular character, not even to any of the twins. But my difficulties were felt only on the first few parts of the book. When I finally got the hang of the narrative, I was able to grasp and understand the big picture (though I had to reread some of the first chapters after I was done.)
The wordplay in the narrative was also something. I liked how the author tweaked the English language and made it even more interesting, at times really funny. There were times, too, however, when the verbosity would confuse and distract me that I would later on just glaze over the page and zero in on the “more interesting” parts.
What I could not shake off was the same feeling I had when I was reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. I don’t know why, but the mixed feelings I had for Briony resurfaced with Baby Kochamma. The way my heart broke over Cecilia and Robbie was the same heartbreak I felt for Velutha and Ammu. I shake my fist at how in both stories the characters seemed to be victims of circumstances beyond their control. Who/what was to blame for all their misfortune?
Unlike Atonement, however, this book actually made me feel conflicted. I was not sure whether I should be impressed with the author’s way in creating an irregular timeline to convey the story or to simply reject her efforts to impress. I did not become attached to any character (except for Velutha, but only because I cry at the injustice of it all and only towards the end). I don’t know if I should relish the slow reveal and the gradual build-up of the suspense or be impatient about them. The God of Small Things was still a worthy read, though, but I am not in the position to say whether it was worth the Booker prize or not.
“Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace Worse Things kept happening.”
My rating: 3/5 stars.
My copy: Paperback by Flamingo, 340 pages (from Booksale)
TFG Book of the Month for March 2015