I’ve finished my second novel in my quest to read all the Booker Prize winners (I read eight before I started this odyssey). The latest one was one was The God of Small Things written by Arundhati Roy. Published in 1997, it won the Booker the same year.
This is just a mini-review as I’m still processing the book. To avoid spoilers, I’ll be brief.
The plot involves a pair of fraternal twins (boy and girl) growing up in Kerala, India in the 1960s in an extended family of Christians. The story, which jumps back and forth in time over about 25 years, touches on many aspects of Indian life, including the Communism of Kerala (India’s only Communist state), the caste system—still very much alive then, and the ambiguity of love. The central story is the close relationship between the boy, Estha, and his sister Rahel, which borders on romantic love. Their close relationship with each other ultimately culminates in a not-so-wonderful act of incest near the end. Both are also involved in a close but platonic relationship with a “dalit”, or untouchable, who befriends them and ultimately becomes the lover of their mother. That forbidden love triggers the shocking ending of the book.
When I was about halfway through this book, I found the writing so atrocious—with the author seemingly trying to show off by capitalizing words to emphasize them, using the same phrase over and over again with slight variations, and spelling words them in weird ways (“Gnap” for nap)—that I almost put the book down. Even though the peculiarities of spelling and grammar may reflect the view of a child, it’s ultimately annoying.
It is only near the end, when the family finds out that the twins’ mother is involved with a dalit, do things pick up, the bad writing falls away, and the story becomes mesmerizing. It is this contrast between the slow and annoying bulk of the book with the absorbing finale that makes me unable to pass judgment on the book right now. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know if it merits a Booker.
“The God of Small Things”, by the way, is a leitmotif, reflecting the fact that seemingly insignificant occurrences can have huge consequences.
My advice is “read it”, because many critics loved the thing, though some felt the way I do: conflicted at best.
I’m ready for my next Booker Book, but I’ve been sidetracked because a good friend just finished Ishiguro’s new novel and wrote me this about it:
I read Ishiguro’s latest recently, Klara and the Sun. It is, again, a superb and profound (and profoundly touching) novel.
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