110 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 1999
"May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month," and so is Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things. Imagine a cold piece of butter slowly melting in a frying pan, setting the scene for the cooking to come, and you can see the way Roy's prose works. Words that are hot and brooding reel you into an intricate web of family politics and social mores, evoking a feeling similar to a written stream of consciencness. Roy writes in layers, except that the layers are both added and taken off; I was reminded of my childhood when I would eat wafer chocolates from the bottom and the top, leaving the middle until last, because that was the best part. Roy kindly dispells the, often torturous, anxiety of what happens in the end early on in the book. The reader is told what happened before it happened, what happened after it happened, and saves what happened for last. A format that seemingly would put off a reader becomes its most appreciated quality. This book is for everyone; murder mystery, love story, epic saga all in one. Even if you're not the romantic type, the social scrutiny of Indian customs provides for interesting reading. However, if you're interested in brain candy, forget it. There is too much to absorb. Emotion and intellect are needed in order to understand the emotion and intellect that are related. You could take in only what is superficially presented, as the plot alone is worthwhile, but you would be missing so much. Rahel, a dizygotic twin returns to the place of her childhood and subesequently a place of unhappiness to see her brother, the other twin, after more than twenty years of separation. Esta, the brother, has stopped talking, and Rahel has stopped feeling. Their reunion allows for the remembrance and grieving of their disasterous youths. They recall small things, seemingly unimportant, yet vital to the reconstruction of their sense of inner peace. They are the same age as their mother when she died, thirty-one. Their house is run down and the only relatives left from the monster in their pasts are, in essence, only waiting to die. Entering their minds through an omniscient voice, we are transported back and forth in time, remembering small things, painting a big picture. We remember a cousin's accidental death, and the death of another who served as a scapegoat. We remember how fate can make the strangest families. We also remember Rahel and Esta, and how they "broke the love laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much." While the novel serves to shock the reader from time to time, the pace is slow. Roy's style would be described as somewhat verbose for the impatient, yet serves to parallel the way we deal with emotions, hurt, and love in life. Creating a paradox however, this reader went back to re-absorb certain elements of beauty or truth, due to a lack of time created by an impatience to find out what happens next. Although usually overly critical of fiction, I would recommend this book for anyone who likes to read intelligent literature. It gives the reader a chance to realize how profound those small things really are.
72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2000
What is the God of Small Things? Small things are what we talk about when the big things are too difficult and too overwhelming. This book is the story of the childhood of non-fraternal twins, Rahel & Estha - a girl and a boy, family, forbidden lovers, politics, and tradition. Ammu is the twins' mother; a woman of a priviledged family who married, then divorced her twins' alcoholic father. Baby Kochamma is their manipulative spinster aunt who pines for a priest she met as a young girl. Sophie Mol is a visting Indian/English cousin who meets her end soon after arriving. The story progresses, in a backwards and forwards manner, telling the tale(s) that ended their childhoods. The children, utimately become pawns in the cruel "history" being played out by the adults around them. We often see the result of the action, before we know what occurred; a complex puzzle unfolding. This story encorporates issues of human relationships, the complicated emotions and repurcussions of the caste system, brutality, and the ability to survive. Holding together the microcosms of the many "small" stories within this story is Roy's use of language. The silly rhymes of the children, their imaginative nicknames for adults, and their view of the love and cruelty of adults, and the interpretation of the world on their terms, creates a framework for this story. The use of "non-standard" English is widely used, which some reviews seem to believe is unintentional. For instance, verbs are sometimes capitalized in order to emphasize the inevitability, the concrete-ness, of the action. Sentances are often framented in order to express a thought, especially a child's thought. (I certainly don't think in complete, grammatical sentances myself). It's really quite beautifully written. It takes a few pages to get to the heart of the story, but once there you will be enthralled. If you are open to an innovative use of language and story telling, along with complex, emotional narrative, you will enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.
123 of 139 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2001
Roy's mastery of metaphor and creativity in wordplay may just be among the best in the English language today. In The God of Small Things she tells a haunting tragedy in hauntingly beautiful prose that borders on poetry. Almost every scene painted itself visibly in my mind, but in particular I find myself dwelling on the OrangedrinkLemondrink Man, and on the airport scene: Ambassadors E. Pelvis and S. Insect; Rahel wrapping herself in the dirty curtain to escape the reeling changes in her life. I'm so impressed by Roy's ability to see a child's-eye view of the world, and it's so easy to believe that Rahel and Estha would assume that "love had been reapportioned." It's also a remarkable achievement in non-linear storytelling for a first-time novelist.
Having said all that, I confess to loving non-linear narrative. If you don't like it, you probably won't think much of this book.
Finally, and coincidentally, just before I read The God of Small Things I read Green English, by linguist Loreto Todd. It's a nonfiction book and I won't go into her thesis. But at one point she suggests that some of the best literature of the 20th century comes from countries where one language (usually a colonizing language, as in India, Ireland, New Zealand, numerous African countries...) has overlaid and been adapted to fit an earlier language, pushing the boundaries of expression. This book seems to me to be a prime example of that idea.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2002
Don't let this book's packaging fool you: it is poetry. It is just over 300 pages of poetry, meant to be read aloud, set down, thought about, slept on, read aloud some more, and thought about some more. And when you're done reading it, you should set it down, think about it, and reread it.
No one part of The God Of Small Things can be understood without understanding the rest of it, but perhaps a chunk from the beginning of the book will reveal some of its beauty and form. Read it aloud if you'd like; that's probably the best way to appreciate it. The quote is this:
"Their lives have a size and a shape now. Estha has his and Rahel hers. Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End. Gentle half-moons have gathered under their eyes and they are as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one.
But a viable die-able age."
That quote is particularly apt, revealing as it does the poetic tragedy of the book. There is very little that is uplifting about The God Of Small Things, because nearly every image is surrounded by the knowledge -- which Ms. Roy plainly lays out early on -- that tragedy will befall the characters soon. As readers, we approach the tragedy with mounting horror, followed by something like resignation, followed by deep loss.
The tragedies of this book are the tragedies of caste, of childhood lost, and of love destroyed. Outwardly, the book is the story of two twins and the broken lives that their childhoods yielded. To me, it is much more: it is a series of paintings in words, of a million small feelings and events from everyday life: the feeling of a lover's skin on our own, the thoughts that race through a child's mind, the desperation of adults who are trying so hard to hold onto the tattered remnants of their youth.
The story is told in such a way that each painting appears for a moment, then disappears into a misty background. This, anyway, is how I envisioned it. Ms. Roy paints each Small Thing well enough that we can see it for ourselves, marvel at its beauty and truth, then move onto the next. It is some of the most sublime prose I have ever read.
I know nothing about India, but the books I've read by Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy reveal it to be a land of almost bottomless sadness. It is a testament to their skill as writers that an ignorant man like me can see -- and more importantly, feel -- their heartache.
116 of 133 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2005
I am a bit puzzled by the critical acclaim piled onto this book. It seems well written in some respects, but it is also needlessly complex in its verbage and its time/setting schemes (half the time you have no idea what time frame she's talking about, often for several pages). Moreover, none of the characters seems particularly compelling or relatable, which in retrospect, I think might be its fatal flaw. You've got a complex array of eccentric and bizarre characters, but they never seem to really come alive-- least of all the twins, who are the two main characters. And however rich the language of the book may be, it's hard to get past the fact that you don't "feel" these characters; it feels like elegant, but wasted, breath for the most part. However, there is a noticable, but modest, element of alluring beauty in her sentences and phrasing, but more often than not, I did not find myself particularly engrossed in the poetry (although, in its defense, I didn't hate the hell out of it, as I often do with books in which the author needlessly overdoes it; case in point, William Faulkner's "Light in August," a book that bears more than a passing resemblance to this one).
"God" is littered with the kind of writing that I suspect prize judges fawn over-- particularly the convoluted plotline that is easy to admire given its complexity and the apparent amount of time that was put into it-- but in my opinion it is not a very satisfying work for the reader in the "effort vs. reward" aspect; I didn't feel like I completely wasted my time, but I also wished I had spent this time on another, more rewarding piece of literature.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2002
Before saying anything about this book - my literary tastes. I like simple books - feel-good books with a quick-moving plot, linear narrative, simple prose and above all, an authorial voice that stays in the background.
Why then do I love this book?
It is the living embodiment of everything I dislike in a novel - the authorial voice is so loud you couldn't miss it if you were deaf; the narrative is anything but linear and the prose is everything but simple; the symbolism is everything but subtle; the pace is everything but fast. There are no simple solutions, no happy resolutions - this is the sort of book that makes you wish you had never lived.
The story is enormously complex - a lesser writer would have cracked under the burden of the plot, but not this one. The story traces the history of the Indian state of Kerala. I have no idea how accurately she has portrayed its history - but it must be said that every page of the book bears that 'stamp of authenticity' so essential for a book of this kind.
The greatest triumph of this book - apart from the brilliant characterization and the hugely complex and demanding plot - is the language. I am not talking about the 'poetic prose' that covers the pages of this book - I refer to the convincing manner in which she conveys the flavour of 'Indian English.' Few writers manage to describe how Indians really talk without descending to the exotic or worse, the ludicruous - a few manage to pull it off. R. K Narayan was one. Arundhati Roy is another.
Instances of 'Indian English' abound.
There is Rahel telling her twin brother that 'sorry doesn't make a dead man alive' - I am not entirely sure she did not eavesdrop on my private conversations. Then there is Estha saying 'Thang God' on finding out that the elephant that has died isn't an elephant they know, and Baby Kochchamma's subsequent correction - all priceless, and wickedly accurate.
Then there is the plot - conceived on an epic scale - at first, it seems to want to say everything without actually saying anything. Then the pages on the right grow thin and you find that everything makes sense - the whole, complex, convoluted story, every 'Small Thing' now finds a place in the scheme of things.
Each character is perfectly drawn out - fully three-dimensional. You have the Oxford-educated Chacko, the ornamental-gardening-graduate-cable-TV-addict-untouchable-hating ...-Father-Mulligan-loving Baby Kochamma (in my opinion the book's most convincing character), Papachi - the anglophile and the violin playing Mamachi - all perfect. And what is one to say of the portrayal of the twins. I am yet to find a book that can write of children's feelings more convincingly. 'Convincing' is the keyword here.
That there will be those who may dislike her political views, there is no doubt (I have an exceedingly low opinion of her political essays), but the manner in which she delivers a resoundingly powerful, deeply moving tale - what can I say - whoever coined the word 'masterpiece' must have had had this book in mind.
77 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2000
Set in Kerala during the late 1960s when communism rattled the age-old caste system, The God of Small Things begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel's protagonists Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspense--filled narrative, it is a story of decadence of a family with a hoary past, trapped in a time bubble (the time on the painted face of child Rahel's watch always reads "ten to two"). The bubble is tossed like a yo-yo by the great surge of events, ready to burst any moment. Nevertheless this steady, mechanical and almost pre-ordained process of withering, stirs up great passions, with its attendant ironies and pathos. In the end, we have a classic with a tragic grandeur, albeit of small things! "A story is a simple way of presenting a complex world and in my book I have tried to create a complete world carefully with craft and detail," clarifies Arundhati Roy, the author while talking to mediapersons.
Things unfold in the Ayemenem House, now mossy, soaky and dusty, but once the symbol of pride for the Syrian Christian clan. Here, the characters inch towards their doomed destinies. Things culminate with the arrival of Sophie Mol with her mother Margaret Kochamma, to visit her `biological father,' Chacko. A stealthy jaunt, masterminded by her cousins Estha and Rahel, climaxes in her death by drowning. This incident, alongwith the exposed rendezvous of Ammu, the divorced daughter of the house with an low caste menial, lets loose all kinds of passions, rage, trickery and madness. Expulsions, separations and deaths follow, turning the place to a phantom of its old glory.
The old house had a fatal attraction about it. Every character returned there -- defeated, deserted and drained by the big, bad world, where they had dispersed earlier. The parallel here is all too discernible to miss -- of the returning Malayalees from their "unhappy" working places in the Gulf.
But once back to Ayemenem House, the characters are trapped -- just like the small bird in the Plymouth, which, unable to find a way out of the car, dies there. All these, seen through the innocent eyes of Estha and Rahel, give a coat of freshness to the narrative. The children's perspective, apart from the overdose of similes and contrived usages, sustain the readers' interests in the small things Lenin, the young son of communist schemer K N M Pillai, for instance, is described as `dressed like a taxi' because of his yellow shirt and black pants. Arundhati Roy's super sensitive antenna catches all the tiny details of her landscape -- and the thick, wet Kerala countryside has plenty to offer. The `farting slush' does not escape her, nor does the `funnel cap' created by mosquitoes over people's heads.
It is not the story element of The God of Small Things that is its strong point, but the language. The language characterised by a strange cadence -- plenty of capitals, joined words and phrases, pranky childish distortions -- supports the jerky unfolding of the story. The narration too is not linear but moves back and forth in time, each chapter briefly touching upon what has gone before or what is in store. These techniques pervade the whole story, even in describing the poignant moments like Ammu's cremation, Estha's separation from his mother and his witnessing the police interrogation. "My thoughts and language are the same things," says Arundhati Roy in an interview. "The book is not based on research, but is about some very raw, private things. It is more about human biology than human history ---- our nature is capable of extreme brutality, extreme love," she adds. As she rightly said, The God of Small Things was `a work of instinct.' She was not searching for a story, `the narrative and the structure slowly revealed itself and the book was written `sentence by sentence.' Therefore, the reader realises very soon that he can't skip over passages: every sentence has to be read and reread to get the flavour of her prose.
53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
My sister had been telling me to read this book for a long time and I just never got around to it. I wanted to, but I have to admit that the subject matter seemed pretty standard for an award-winning book: 'The God of Small Things' centers around a tragedy that rends a family apart and its lasting effects on the twins who were at the heart of it. But the truth is that there is little that is standard about Arundhati Roy's writing. She tells her story in a completely original narrative that puts you inside the heads of the young twins who drive the plot. You see the world through the slightly fantastic, exaggerated eyes of a child caught in very grown-up circumstances. I can see that some would criticize her style as "weird", but that is the whole beauty of it. Most children that I know see the world in a slightly off-kilter way (and I know for a fact that I did). That's just the nature of kids. The innocence of the perspective makes the events of the plot seem that much more disturbing and downright chilling. I was wrong to expect a by-the-numbers book when I picked this up. Ms. Roy's novel is very original and well written. Now if only she would write another fiction book!
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2001
The numerous negative reviews on this one surprise me. I myself am afflicted with that gen-x impatience and irritation with self-indulgent prose and overwrought plots. But this book grabbed me and blew me away. The book excels in its radiant, poetic imagery and its sometimes quaint, sometimes devastating insight into humanity and society. But what sends it over the top is its exquisitely structured plot. The old analogy of peeling an onion comes to mind -- the story masterfully shifts back and forth from past and present, slowly revealing its tragic ultimate truths. Trust me: at the end, the genius behind the organization becomes perfectly, heart-breakingly clear.
The plot shifts were NOT confusing or distracting, even for this MTV-generation reader. If anything, I agree with those thinking that the author makes it too easy to follow and lets on a little too much too early. This book does require some careful reading, or even multiple readings (generally, a good trait for books). True to the author's background in architecture, every detail counts and nothing is wasted. Which raises my only other minor complaint -- the author gets a little carried away with recalling and recycling every single image and detail. At times it borders on listening to that overexcited friend that keeps on bringing up the same old stories and inside jokes -- 'Okay already.'
As for social commentary, this novel is par excellence. What better setting for another rendition of that old theme of forbidden love than post-liberation India. Gender, class, age, race. Tradition, Marxism, Decolonization, Anglophilia. 'Little' people caught in the middle of 'big' things. Those that don't see the scathing social criticism in this book baffle me. I guess if you don't get it, you just don't get it.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2000
This wonderful and outstanding book is a poem written in prose, a story of love and hate, of faithfulness and treachery. This is a novel about genuine affection and its price in the cruel world. Fourteen nights of love costed two immediate deaths and at least three distorted lives: does such a balance make any sense? An answer is etched even in composition of the novel. The last chapter of the book, its end and pinnacle, gives the answer: we see the fortnight through the eyes of a man and a woman who are in love, but who understand their doomed fate, and this makes every moment of their intimacy priceless. They discern the significance of the Small Things (even a life of a minute spider, a mute witness of their passion), they realize the meaning of Tomorrow. A cause of the tragical events is not the love that breaks all racial and social barriers but these barriers themselves and the hatred generated by them. Take care of Small Things of human delicate happiness in this still ruthless world, - tells us Ms Roy's beautiful novel, - and believe in Tomorrow despite everything.
Influenced by William Faulkner, Ms Arundhati Roy's moving poetic style successfully supplements Salmon Rushdie's derisive 'magical realism', giving trustworthy picture of Indian life. 'The God of Small Things' is the first novel of the author and (undoubtedly) her great achievement. I wish her next book to be even better (though now I really do not know what can be better).