At the start of the year, I set myself a reading challenge. I would be reading one book a month, based on topics previously set. My book for May 2021 was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, a Booker Prize winner. What a book to choose!
The story is a domestic tragedy of fraternal twins, living in India, whose lives crumble following the accidental death of their cousin, Sophie Mol. Rahel returns to Ayemenem (in Kerela) following a failed marriage and is reunited with her selective mute brother, Esthappen. There she reflects on the incidents that occurred in their childhood, leading to their separation, and the death of their mother. Roy uses this narrative to draw attention to the irony of, and challenge the caste system in India, as well as presenting the idea that love is uncontrollable – many of the characters overstep boundaries and expectations for love throughout the text.
No wonder The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997. It’s beautifully written in a non-sequential narrative style, slowly unravelling pieces of information about the family tragedy, mostly through Rahel’s perspective. I was hooked after just a few chapters, desperate to find out how Sophie Mol dies, and why Rahel and Estha are living in such an unfavourable situation. Although it’s complex, the patchwork chapters culminate to create a clear timeline of events which left me a little unsettled, but with a huge sense of sympathy for the characters, especially the twins’ mother Ammu and Velutha.
There is also a clear sense of a child’s perspective, by Roy’s use of combining words like ‘orangedrink lemondrink man’ which expertly adds to the authenticity of the voices within the narrative. As the characters seem to hold the English language as important, this adaptation of language suggests a rejection of Britain’s colonial impact on India – the characters who speak ‘properly’, and blindly accept rigid, societal rules are dislikeable, manipulative, and cruel.
As the horrors of the story unfold in the final few chapters, Roy made my heart break, but seemed to refuse to let me put the book down. Suddenly all the pieces fit together, and we see how the ‘Love Laws’ can cause the downfall of all. There truly are some horrors – graphic descriptions of bloated corpses and brutal beatings – but all are completely juxtaposed in the final chapter, which depicts a quiet, passionate moment of forbidden love. And I’m glad that’s what we close the cover on.
I was only five when it was published, but I can’t believe it took me so long to pick up The God of Small Things. If you’re looking for a novel that really gives you the feeling of catharsis and sympathy in equal measures, this is the one.