Wilkommen again gentle readers and welcome to entry part Deux in this book review series; a brief look back at my own personal journey through the literary highways and byways of these foul times. You might remember that we started with the neon sweat-soaked brain-tsunami that is Burrough’s Naked Lunch and I guess after that mind-melter I must have felt that something a little more elegant was in order. As a result, I picked up a copy of the Booker Prize Winning debut novel of Indian writer Arundrhati Roy round about the time I turned twenty three and threw myself headfirst into its pages.
But enough of this tedious back story, let’s get to the real question here… was it any bloody good?!
It’s certainly different to the free-form mania of William Burroughs, that’s for damn sure. Fantastically dense and brimming with unique and realistic character observations, the first (and only) novel that Roy created truly is a story dedicated to the quirks and foibles of the human race. In fact to be completely truthful its preference for character over plot often threatens to derail proceedings and becomes more than a little overwhelming at times.
Which turns out to be both a good and a bad thing. The good? Well, every personality in the book feels like a living breathing soul; real and convincingly flawed in all the ways that you hope for when you open up a new novel. The bad? This means you find yourselves spending a pretty large amount of time with people who are by turns icy, selfish, racist and empty at heart. And all of them, from the kind to the cold seem to be involved in an intricately detailed courtly dance where no-one actually seems to touch. They just slide past each other exchanging words and insults as they go. Meaning that in the same way that the almost complete lack of familial love in the story is unsettling to witness, it’s also refreshing at the same time. To see it laid bare without apology. Without restraint. That’s a rare treat to be had these days.
As I said, this is characterisation central.
It’s a lucky thing then that the fractured narrative (one that moves between the district of Kerala, India in both 1969 and 1993) is perfectly paced to balance all this character observation out and breaks up the large paragraphs of description to give some much needed relief. It’s worth noting as well that the time jumps the author uses so frequently actually end up mirroring the short attention span of the main protagonists, twins Rahel and Esthappen, especially in their younger years. Which let’s face it, is a neat authorial trick in and of itself. But also shows how instinctively the entire book reflects the sibling’s experiences and thoughts. It is after all, their story through and through and the author never strays from this mantra.
You can’t deny either that the book is pretty epic in scope. Exploring problems such as the relationships between the classes, the idea of forbidden love and the damning effects of betrayal, The God of Small Things is a wonderfully ambitious novel. Although it’s based in rural Ayemenem, its themes are much larger, much more universal than its humble setting… which is probably why it garnered so much attention from the critics when it was first published. Indeed from a lowly reader’s perspective its combination of lushly drawn Indian landscapes and fragile human connections make for a powerful experience once you fall under its spell. Not an easy one, mind you. But a worthwhile one.
And from a writer’s point of view; yes it may be cluttered and clogged with descriptions but it’s also a finely crafted book with narrative intelligence and a wide ranging eye for the frailties of man.
So there you have it. Sound like your kind of thing? Or something that you’d burn without a second thought in a fairy circle at midnight? Either is fine. Both might be a bit much… but to each their own. Live and let live and all that.
Just let us know if you do end up reading TGoST because we’d love to hear your thoughts. Message, email, carrier vole us in all the usual ways.
CONCLUSION: An important portrait of Family Life in all it’s barren glory.
MARKS: 8.5 out of 10.