Wednesday, January 20, 2010

REVIEW: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy


The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Published 1997 by Random House. Literary Fiction. Winner of the Booker Prize.

Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is the story of a Indian family destroyed by love and death. The family is that of children Rahel and Estha, fraternal twins who live with their mother Ammu, their aunt Baby Kochamma and their uncle Chacko. They are the prosperous owners of Paradise Pickle. The death is that of Sophie Mol, a little girl and Chacko's daughter, visiting from England with her mother Margaret. The love is between Ammu and Velutha, a lower-caste neighbor.

Themes explored include race, caste, class and identity; the novel travels back and forth in time between Rahel and Estha's childhood in India and their separate destinies as adults. Tragedy and sadness are interwoven everywhere as the reader is reminded via foreshadowing and repetition of the inevitable forces shaping and reshaping their lives at every turn. The love story between Ammu and Velutha is particularly poignant as Roy shows the cost of the caste system on the lives of the people who live under it.

It sounds like it might be a little depressing, and it is, but I liked it nonetheless. Roy doesn't tell us exactly what happened to Sophie Mol until the very end, and by that time we can see how her death and its consequences are about more than just Sophie. Her fate determines that of every other character and tears back the thin dressing of civility in this troubled community like a bandage from a wound. Roy does a brilliant job of sewing up this patchwork of relationships and lives so that when trouble comes, it rips right along the lines.

The God of Small Things is definitely not the book for every reader; it's slow and it struck me as a dense study of character and culture. It fits well within the tradition of moody Booker Prize winners and would be a fine choice for the literary fiction reader interested in books about India. It's not a lively book but Roy kept me going with the suspense over what happens to Sophie and the other rich, detailed characters. She also evokes the setting beautifully and vividly; you'll fall in love with these characters and live the story along with them.

Rating: BUY
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

16 comments:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a book I might like. I can get engrossed in moody books, especially this time of year.

Charley said...

I'm about 50 pages into this for a book club. I'm taking notes, and I agree, it's a bit dense.

J.C. Montgomery said...

I haven't read too many Booker winners, but from that little bit, I agree, they can be on the moody/darker side.

Nevertheless, so far I have liked them all and look forward to reading this one.

Thank you for an insightful review!

thekoolaidmom said...

I have this one on Mt. TBR, somewhere. It's actually a more recent acquisition, too. It looks so lovely, and I can't wait to get to it someday.

Zibilee said...

I read this a really long time ago and thought it was beautiful. As you mentioned, it was a little slow at times, but I really got caught up in the characters and their plights. Awesome review on this one, I am so glad that you enjoyed it!

Bellezza said...

It was hard for me to get into this, when I picked it up a few years ago, and more than a little confusing. But, in the end I sorted it all out, and I thought it was an excellent read. For me, it seemed to be the beginning of the trend of Middle Eastern books which are so prevalent today.

Aarti said...

I started but did not finish this book. Like you and many have said, I found it really slow. Maybe now that I'm older and more mature, I'll appreciate the slower pace :-)

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for the review.

I have heard mixed reviews on this one - some friends told me they couldn't finish it. While I was traveling in India last month, a few people raved about as one of the best they have ever read so I decided to try it - its on its way to me from Bookmooch!

maschembari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wisteria said...

I was originally pulled to this book many years ago, but as you said it is dense. I found it too dark for me at that time. I might try it again. Thanks for reminding me about this one.

Jules said...

This books sounds like a powerful read, even if it's dense at times, by the looks of the description the overall message is worth it.

Jeanne said...

I didn't like reading this book, but I liked having read it, once I'd finished.

Carin said...

I'm very glad you said this book isn't for everyone. Personally, I hated it (especially the ending) and after a couple of other bad reading experiences, I've decided the Booker Prize and I need to part ways and keep to our own sides of the ocean. But of course not every book is for every person! How boring life would be if that were so.

D said...

I read The God of Small Things during graduate school. It was my first novel by a Booker winning author. I very much admired Roy's prose throughout the novel and the underlying theme of trauma and how trauma affects an individual in different and unique ways.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I don't mind a book that doesn't move quickly, and might like THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS. I considered joining the Complete Booker Challenge, but didn't (and that's probably what it would take to push me to finally pick this up!)

I'll look for your upcoming reviews of Man Booker books; you might convince me yet.

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

Wonderful review. I especially like this part: "Her fate determines that of every other character and tears back the thin dressing of civility in this troubled community like a bandage from a wound." Beautifully said!