Thursday, 9 April 2009

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things tells the fragmented, history infested story of one disjointed family in South West India. A tale of the new and the old, it reads like a timeless classic or a modern Arabian Nights. The Story is based around the childhood trauma of a pair of ‘two-egg twins’ and the dramatic fall from social grace of their mother. The family is living on the cusp of transformation, embezzled by the seduction of modern life but brought to its knees by the incongruity of ancient customs. It is a slow, oblique tour through the psychological landscape of a family which has never come to terms with the tragic events of one fortnight when history deemed it time they pay their dues. Reminiscent of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in its expression of childhood it is also a novel about the simplicity and complexity of growing up with its daily discoveries and lessons in life.

There are few books in which a love of language is as evident as in The God of Small Things. As with Salman Rushdie one gets the impression that here is a lover of words, joyously toying with the tools of her craft, creatively transforming the language. Every sentence is crafted and finely honed. Each word resounds with its own rhythm: words which you can feel on your tongue, words which sound like music in your ears and paint colourful pictures in your mind. The language is alive with the invention of childhood, constantly absorbing and growing and experimenting. Arundhati Roy writes with unrivalled onomatopoeic prose, every word is used to sensory overload and dextrous exactitude. Her similes are sublime, so clearly portrayed that you not only picture the landscape in your mind but feel it in your heart. The result is a splendid concoction of sounds, smells and colours which burst with the ripeness of a thousand open wounds, weeping for the tragedy of the Love Laws: “the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.”

For The God of Small Things is also one of the saddest books you are likely to read. There is nothing to rehabilitate the desolation: no chinks in the armour of wasted life, no crack in the fabric of wanton destruction, and certainly no happy ending. It is a book in which you can wallow in muddy brown waters and come up smelling of the Earth and all those who inhabit it. If ever there was a book to study in depth then this is it. I understood only a small fraction of what took place and glimpsed but a sequestered blink of the complex characterisation. With such deliciously tactile prose it is often difficult to remain focussed on the events on the page and as such few books can be so easy to half-read.

This is a mixed blessing. In no other book have I found my mind wander so consistently, or to so many dreamlike places. But at the same time the prose is too dense to flow smoothly and the constant shifts in time and location make for a disjointed read. I struggled at times to fully immerse myself in the storyline and because of this became easily distracted. This is a book for a holiday rather than the daily bus journey to work. The God of Small Things is an inspired work of art, but it is with reason that it was recently included in a list of ten most frequently unfinished novels. Persist though, it is so very worth it.

Like all truly great fiction, so much is left unsaid. Images and events speak for themselves without wailing choral climaxes overburdening their creaking backs. By not being force fed the beguiling impossibility of the events the reader is left emotionally defenceless, their skin permeable to the vast array of sensory exposures flickering through the symphonic words.

This is Arundhati Roy’s only published work of fiction and after this effort she need never compose another sentence. This is a book that shall undoubtedly survive the test of time.

7.5 out of 10

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