There are certain books, which, when we are done reading them, do not leave us with a sense of completion; they do not give us the sense of fulfilment or the feeling of having arrived at a conclusion. They are the kind of books, which in some myriad, inexplicable way, leave us somewhat lesser than before, almost like they consume a part of us, our pains, our fears, our secrets. ‘The God of Small Things’ is one such book.
The first and only novel by Arundhati Roy surely lives up to the quote in the beginning of the books that says, “Never again will a single story be told as though it was the only one”. The story set against the backdrop of a tiny Keralite town of Ayemenem (where Roy spent much of her childhood) is a breezy, matter-of-fact account of a family which seems not to know the Love Rules; “who should be loved. And how. And how much.” The shadow of an impending disaster looms along the whole course of the story told in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards. It is amazing how Roy manages to make the heartbreakingly tragic story witty and funny.
The main focus of the story are the lives of Estha and Rahel, “who thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually as We or Us”. They share more than the strong emotional bond, they share the same childhood that left them scarred for life. They share a similar kind of hurt, the same kind of mind, the same heart and the painful responsibility of death that was thrust on their shoulders by the people they loved; the people they wanted to be loved by. The story is a tragically funny account of them wanting to fit into cracks that won’t take them in, about them searching for acceptance, about them trying to find love in unlikely lives, acceptance in forsaken places- in Baby Kochamma, their baby-grandaunt, who having had her heart broken over an Irish priest loathes them for being fellow-unfortunates who don’t realize the futility of optimism; in Chacko, their uncle who was a Rhodes scholar who could never get over his ex-wife and was deeply devoted to his daughter, Sophie, whose death triggers a chain reaction that affects many lives at the same time; in Mamacchi, their grand-mother who had an almost Oedipal love for her son and loved him zealously, jealously, choosing not to see things that he did. But for me, the characters that most stands out in the novel are that of Ammu, their mother and Velutha, the Paravan, the untouchable.. While Ammu epitomizes the spirit of a woman who wants something more from life and when refused, goes ahead and grabs from it what she could; Velutha is representative of things that are forbidden in life but things that can give us happiness, things that give respite from the drudgery of a jinxed existence. Ammu’s anguish, her desperation and her love for her children are the things that struck me the most in the book and stayed with me long after I finished reading. She dies at 31; “Not too old. Not too young. Just a viable, dieable age”..
The story is deeply autobiographical and especially the character of Rahel has close affinity to the author herself. The style might take some time getting used to. The book does not have a traditional or conventional narration style and seems to jumps from one phase of the protagonists’ lives to the other but as you go on turning the pages; you would love the book all the more for it. With the lushness of coconut tree dotted coasts and the smell and taste of Mammachi’s pickle factory, this book makes for a dreamy read. Even with shades of politics, social taboos and religion that had been added by Roy here and there, the focus on raw human emotions never deviates. Everyone in the book has reasons for the way they are. In the end, you hate no one, blame no one, and hold no one responsible because everyone here is the product of the blood-line they had, of the childhood that enveloped them, of the lives they had before becoming what they are.
In the end it is a story of filial ties, about lines that shouldn’t have been crossed, about the millions of little things that are said and the one big thing that remains unsaid. It is a masterpiece and the Booker prize it won is no credit to it. In fact, the book is a credit to the prize. The terrible suppressive thing that life sometimes becomes is beautifully, lovingly and very practically described by Roy. But in the end, what will linger with the readers long after they had finished reading the book is the sadness that pervades the humor, the beauty and the absurd. What will remain is the realization of the little things that they had talked about and mentioned and all the big things that they had cluttered in the back of their head.
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