Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is one of those books that seems to come along once in a blue moon. It seemed to defy all the conventional ‘rules’ of literature and in the process created a sensation. The characterisation, non-linear narrative, and unfamiliar and yet at the same time familiar setting make it hard to put down.
The story is set in Kerala, India and retraces the lives of an upper caste family in the lead up and aftermath of a tragic drowning accident, with focus on the destruction of the fraternal twins Estha and Rahel’s lives. The story starts at the end, finds the beginning in the middle and finishes somewhere in the middle which allows the characters to be developed and seen at different stages of their lives. The vast array of characters also aid the storytelling because the narrative is not restricted to one person’s viewpoint; third person narrative enables us as readers to experience India through the eyes of children, grandparents, women, men and untouchables.
What I liked most was the political aspect of the novel. At the very heart of the plot was the transgression of the laws that have built Indian society and yet they were so easily broken, broken by ordinary people. The laws that surround religion, nationality, caste, gender, sexuality, incest: the laws that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” But it remains relatable, although it discusses and leaves those issues open for criticism it is not a political attack on the system. It questions the importance of the small things over the big, or in this case the social ‘laws’.
I found one of the characters particularly interesting. Velutha who is the God of Small Things. What I most enjoyed was his presence in the text, for the majority of the opening he is only referred to, and is not seen or given a large role because of his place as an untouchable in the Indian caste system, at the bottom of the hierarchical system. But as the ‘laws’ were starting to become more apparent as the plot picked up and they started to be questioned and broken, he became a crucial character. Despite the stereotype associated with the untouchables to the other characters he was, and is for me, one of the nicest characters. He was not aggressive or violent towards those who were ranked higher in the heteronormative society.
Although set in India between 1960-1990 depending on which part of the narrative we look at, the text was familiar. I have been to India and was able to imagine the places I had seen and compare that to the descriptions in the novel, but regardless of my experiences I still felt that I was able to relate to the characters. The descriptions of the exotic didn’t feel like Roy was trying to sell India, like some people have criticised, but it just felt like a description of a family home in India. For Roy, the scenes that she writes about are quotidian, nothing more.
- Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (amyrosemary.wordpress.com)
- The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (crazygoangirlreads.wordpress.com)
- Book Review (petermodoli.wordpress.com)
- ‘Corporate Money Has No Nationality. They Just Run India’ by Arundhati Roy (zcommunications.org)