"May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun."
The God of Small Things is one of those novels which start off quietly but before you know it, you've spent half the night up reading and stumble to work bleary-eyed in the morning, wondering what the hell hit you and how long it will take for the world to right itself again.
Some novels are like junk food. You can devour a packet of Tim Tams or salt & vinegar chips in one sitting and feel an enormous sense of satisfaction, which will last about five minutes.
But then there are those other novels, the ones that are like fine wine or really, really good, hand-crafted dark chocolate - where you can have a piece the size of an ice cube, or a small glass, and spend the night floating on clouds.
It was the same sensation I felt when reading The God of Small Things. The characters and plot and meaning were not handed to me on a silver platter. I had to work at it and piece together all the puzzles myself. So by the time I came to the end of the story, it felt as though I had arrived at a new understanding of an aspect of humanity.
It's a shame that Arundhati Roy has said that she will probably never write fiction again. But some authors don't need to. Like Harper Lee, for example, their only piece of work is so powerful, sometimes so polemic for their times, that they have nothing else left to say. Not in novel form, at least. And that's totally fine - because what they had to say in one book can awaken truths that other authors can't even touch in ten.
What struck me most about The God of Small Things was Roy's use of language to denote the culture of post-colonial India. Every word of dialogue was chosen with care and delicacy, and there was not one scene that felt misplaced or jarring.
The characters were real and, most important, universal. So even if you were not one half of a pair of fraternal twins living in India, you could still empathise with Rahel and Estha and their small childhood woes, which turned out to be not so small in the end.
Readers can interpret a book so differently based on their life experiences and expectations. What I took away from this novel was the knowledge that people are cruel to each other in so many ways, often unintentionally but sometimes, breathtakingly deliberately - like Baby Kochamma's betrayal of Ammu, all stemming from her own never-healed bitterness at being rejected in love.
Have you read The God of Small Things? What did you like or dislike most about it?
* Next week's book club title is It, by Stephen King.
Continue the discussion on the Facebook page for Reading Is Bliss.
Post a comment