lauantai 13. marraskuuta 2010

Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things

In those early amorphous years when memory has only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities.
Now, these years later, Rahel has a memory of waking up one night giggling at Estha's funny dream.
She has other memories too that she has no right to have.

First, a word of warning: I am absolutely incapable of writing a sensible, objective or even critical review of this novel. Why? Because I have read this novel too many times, read too many reviews and articles about it, thought about it for too many years and written over one-hundred pages of thesis on it. So writing a good, ordinary blog review seems...difficult, to put it mildly. But I'm doing it anyway, because I have a firm belief that this book is misunderstood by too many people and that everyone, and I mean everyone, should read it.

The God of Small Things (1997) is Indian novelist Arundhati Roy's first and (so far) only novel, although there are rumours that she is currently writing another. The novel was the first novel written by an Indian woman to win the Booker Prize and it became a bestseller around the world immediately after its publication.

The novel basically tells the story of a family living in Kerala, India. It is about a blind, violin-playing grandmother, Mammachi. An aunt called Baby Kochamma, whose forbidden love for an Irish priest makes her condemn everyone else's happiness. An uncle, Chacko, who is critical of the British colonial rule in India, but proud of his own Oxford education. And Ammu, a mother and divorcee, who is an "unmixable mix" with the "infinite tenderness of motherhood and the reckless rage of a suicide bomber". And, of course, the main characters of the novel, Ammu's children Estha(ppen) and Rahel, 7-year-old children who share a special twin bond.

The main events of the novel center around the visit of Chacko's English ex-wife and daughter to Kerala. During the course of the visit, the family faces two separate tragedies, as forbidden boundaries are crossed and taboos are violated. The twins learn that there are "Love Laws", the laws that "lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much." Breaking such laws is not tolerated and the consequences can be violent.

What makes the novel difficult to read? I guess the main problem is that the plot is not chronological. The first chapter of the novel summarises or hints at all the main events and the tragic ending is revealed as early as page 6 of the novel! But the full story is like a puzzle: it is made up of small fragments, personal memories that emerge randomly and are told through the eyes of the two twins who are forced to witness the brutal realities of the adult world. The language of the novel also divides opinions. It is full of metaphors, word-play, and new compound words that Arundhati Roy has made up. The grass is "wetgreen", the day looks like "thunderdarkness", the river behind the family's house has "a rushing, rolling, fishswimming sense." The smell of old roses is "sicksweet", while handcuffs have a "sourmetal" smell. The movie theatre where the twins go to see The Sound of Music has a door that opens into the "fan-whirring, peanut-crunching darkness". I think the language of the novel is brilliant, beautiful and imaginative, but as I said, others have criticised it.

So now I have also managed point out why some people don't like the novel. I do. I can still honestly say it's the best novel I have read. It's also easy to re-read, because you find something new in it every time (like this time I read it, I realized that the novel quotes the lyrics of The Rolling Stones' song "Ruby Tuesday"!). It's a novel about twins, about families breaking up, about the caste system and patriarchy, about breaking taboos and social laws, about loss and death, about memory and redemption. It's a big book. It's... superlative (for lack of a better adjective). Read it.

Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things. Harper Perennial. 1997.

Links:
The New Canon: The God of Small Things
The Man Booker Prize: The God of Small Things
Wikipedia: The God of Small Things
Buy The God of Small Things from The Book Depository

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