Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Random House, 1997.
Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” is an ominous and enigmatic novel with a pernicious tone that is set early on. It’s like a dark and heavy fog at dawn, leaving the reader to guess whether the sun will eventually emerge to burn off the fog, or if it’s getting ready to drizzle and thunder and lightning all day. Set in India circa the time of the Communist revolution, it is a tale of two lovers fatally attracted to each other (literally), and two children who are fraternal twins. The story ends on a happy note, but doesn’t have a happy ending. That is, the plot is chronologically disjointed in such a way that certain major events are foreshadowed, while subsequent chapters jump back to fill in the blanks as the story unravels. The writing is extremely rich with detail, a lot of which is pertinent and revisited time and again, but a lot of which isn’t, and only serves to poetically bolster the language. For example:
Years later, when Rahel returned to the river, it greeted her with a ghastly skull’s smile, with holes where teeth had been, and a limp hand raised from a hospital bed.
Both things had happened.
It had shrunk. And she had grown…
Despite the fact that it was June, and raining, the river was no more than a swollen drain now. A thin ribbon of thick water that lapped wearily at the mud banks on either side, sequined with the occasional silver slant of a dead fish. It was choked with a succulent weed, whose furrowed brown roots waved like thin tentacles underwater. Bronze-winged lily-trotters walked across it. Splay-footed, cautious.
Roy’s writing style is Rushdie-esque in at at least two ways. Firstly, she takes excessive liberties with the rules of the English language, often combining words to make one, or breaking one apart to make two, and uses sentence fragments frequently to accentuate matters. Secondly, her manner of storytelling is like an overgrown and untamed flower garden, splendorous but chaotic…naturally beautiful and organic, but a lot to sort through. The tale unfolds with a quality of dream-like effluvia, held cohesive by the exaggerated use of repetition. Lots. And lots. And lots of repetition.
While the content is eerie and the tone despondent, I very much enjoyed reading this novel. My only critique is that sometimes the commandeering grammatical rule-breaking comes off as a touch self-indulgent. But hey, for a first-time novelist to win the Booker Prize on her debut work, I’ll allow it.