If you haven’t read The God of Small Things yet, you may still have heard all about how the novel grabbed the 1997 Booker, while notoriously creating trouble in Kerala thanks to its sexual explicitness. But there is so much more that Roy’s debut novel achieves.
The beauty of Roy’s creation is that it stays with you, years after you have turned the last page. After you’ve read The God of Small Things, you will be reminded of the opening lines of Katy Perry’s Thinking of You – “Comparisons are easily done once you’ve had a taste of perfection.” That last word pretty much sums up what Roy has managed to accomplish with her 1997 novel (regardless of what the then Kerala CM said). And now, 20 years later, she’s at it again, poised to win our hearts with her second work of fiction.
The God of Small Things is a story that is told delicately but felt monumentally. Throwing linearity to the wind, Roy embarks on a feat of storytelling that comes at you slowly, episodically, forever carrying a heaviness, a sadness, a pain, despite its innocent tidbits of humour. From its third page to its last, the novel is thick with a sense of ‘something bad has happened’. Even when seen through the eyes of twin seven-year-olds Estha and Rahel, the events of this tale are wrought with a poignant feeling of disquiet right from the start. With every page that you turn, your mind is steadily wrapped in an atmosphere of dread; nearly every paragraph seems to tell its reader that something awful happened years ago in Ayemenem, the same something that changed each character’s life irrevocably.
However, as the vantage point moves between that of the young Rahel and Estha and their grown-up selves, to that of other characters, including the minor ones, The God of Small Things becomes a many-layered tale; and every character’s view of ‘what happened’ makes the ‘happened’ that much richer. Wielding a pen oozing with satirical genius, Roy critiques the mindsets of certain someones as she explores the Love Laws and their implications in her characters’ lives.
Centred chiefly on the twins, the novel tells us quickly that Estha and Rahel were separated when they were seven, and are now united, 23 years later. But the true magic of The God of Small Things lies in what happened between then and now, and in the ‘why’ of their gutting separation. The novel will also tell us that while the Terror seemed to begin the day the twins’ cousin died, to put it in Roy’s words themselves, “… it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.” And that is the core of this Booker-winning fiction – Love.
But, it’s not just the subject of this novel that’s tremendous, but the writing itself. With language that dances playfully between the intentionally child-like and the strikingly complex, Roy tells us about her “God of Small Things” and how it must succumb to the “Big God”. And so, what happens with her narrative is that it also comments on politics, society, and issues of the Third World.
To put it simply, almost every text you read post The God of Small Things will face the sad but inevitable fate of being compared to this 20-year-old masterpiece. A portrait of forbidden love, innocence, loneliness, and an almost visceral despair, the novel still packs bright splashes of wit and sarcasm that will make you smile despite that lump-in-the-throat feeling. No wonder one John Berger said of it: “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.”
He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.
Recommended Age Group: Anyone over 18.
Final verdict: ????? – Buy a hardback and show it off in your bookshelf! And then wait for a signed anniversary edition and buy that too.
You can buy the book here.
Or if you don’t have a bookstore around you, here.
*Feature Image Courtesy: India 50