The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Book Review by Hannah Astill
Winner of The Booker Prize and hailed the ‘literary sensation of the 1990s’, The God of Small Things certainly has a huge amount to live up to. Massive expectations rest on a couple of hundred pages, and I had been more than ready to give up before reading a single sentence.
Truth is I’d seen the book on numerous occasions before committing to purchase. It was becoming uncanny the amount of times I found myself strolling into a charity shop, making a beeline for shelves of dusty books and picking out Arundhati Roy’s debut effort from among the McEwan’s and the Atwood’s. Each time however, and for no real reason whatsoever, I managed to walk away.
On the tenth time of occurrence, I figured fate was fast becoming impatient. I bought the damn book.
Open the first page and you find yourself transported, engaged, engulfed; full heartedly and inescapably knee-deep in Roy’s narrative. The effect is immediate. The novel tells the story of twins Rahel and Estha, growing up among the exuberant, multi-faceted and turbulent background of modern India. This ‘childhood’ revolves around the characters who live in their company and in close proximity of their blind Grandmother’s factory: their troubled but beautiful Mother, the Marxist Uncle Chacko, the overburdening Grand-Aunt ‘Baby’ Kochamma, the fascinating English visitors – and overriding everything, omnipresent in all things, lies a tragedy – unforgettable, perhaps unforgivable – which rocks every already-tottering foundation the family holds close.
The novel is paced perfectly: a heavy plot that flitters gracefully between times – the twins as inquisitive, innocent children and the twins as their older, more world-weary, affected adult selves. Both, for different reasons, leave and return home, return to the family and to each other, and the story unfolds beautifully in the telling.
This is a story of anger, tragedy and wit; detailing the trials and tribulations of a family in despair. The writing is magic, magnetic – Roy describes a scene as though she were writing it from reality, and never shies from doing so.
Every sound, every word, every blink, every breath seems real and alive and present. The characterisation and descriptions read like poetry. The scenes, whether bustling Indian cities, small regional cinemas, a banana factory or moonlit riversides, spill out from the book’s pages; the description is immense and the prose, effortlessly powerful. Roy’s debut is a masterpiece, and that’s an understatement.
This is a book that has to be read.