REVIEW: ARUNDHATI ROY, THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, 1997 MAN BOOKER PRIZE WINNER

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The first novel is down! Forty-Seven to go! And judging on the first impressions, it looks promising for the rest for the novels on the Man Booker Prize Winners’ list.

The God of Small Things, which won the Man Booker Prize in 1997, is Arundhati Roy’s first – and so far only – novel, and it is an intriguing read from start to finish. It tells the story of an Indian family in the late twentieth century through a series of reminiscences from twin brother and sister, Estha and Rahel. The story begins when the both of them return to their hometown of Ayemenem in Kerala, India, after many years apart. Most of the novel looks at the childhood of Estha and Rahel, but Roy ties in the wider stories of their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, as well as the political and social events which were shaping India in the twentieth century. Roy’s writing invokes the senses; you can hear the crowd of Communists marching through the streets, you can taste the spices in the food and you feel the heat of the sun. She also intercedes her work with various pop culture references, from Elvis to the Rolling Stones, whilst taking in the Sound of Music. This makes for some of the more humorous aspects of the story.

However, there are dark undertones in the colourful world of Estha and Rahel’s India. Their India is that of the caste system, in which society is structured by your social, religious or ethnic background. When history and convention is challenged by two individuals in the name of love, it leaves a devastating impact for the entire family and those associated with them. Apart from the caste system and the political and social change of post-independence India, the real ‘Heart of Darkness’ in the novel comes from Estha and Rahel’s own family. The novel more than anything is about families, and how secrets, lies and particularly bitterness can destroy them. Bitterness ties in such characters as Pappachi, Estha and Rahel’s grandfather, a man’s whose career was never quite fulfilled and whose perceived failure eat away at him for the rest of his life; the twins’ great aunt Baby Kochamma, whose own experience of unrequited love left her bitter and nasty to her own family; and the twins own mother Ammu, a headstrong but hard woman who has survived an abusive father, alcoholic husband and the disgrace of being a single mother in a deeply conservative community.

The purpose of my challenge is to read books I wouldn’t normally read. After reading the first three chapters of this book, I was hooked. It is a shame that Arundhati Roy hasn’t written a book since. If she does anything as good as The God of Small Things again, I would be the first to read it.

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