The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, is a 1997 novel which was lauded and panned by the critics worldwide, whilst the great William Dalrymple said: ‘The Soaring Masterpiece of 1997’. It is a novel which follows the life of a family in the vibrant and suburban village of Ayemenem; called Aymanam popularly in India.
Estha and Rahel, are two protagonists of the novel; twins whose lives are left broken by the turn of events during the course of a day, leaving everything shattered in its wake. The premise might sound very constricting, but it isn’t so, I can assure you on that. The novel is a chain of action and reaction acting upon each and every character, twisting their lives, their intentions, their motives, their sense of purpose and joy of living; almost turning their lives upside down.
It is partly a very intelligent book due to its very non-linear structure, made lucid by the sheer beauty of Roy’s writing. It starts with the description of Estha, and she beautifully pens down how the little man grows quieter and crosses the propensity and boundaries of his mournful walk, full of silent musings and painful brooding.
It shifts in time, like a pendulum, and it becomes very difficult for the writer to read a novel like that. Partly, because of the sole reason, that writers steal, and during the very first reading of the novel, you, as a writer tend to be more dismayed and surprised rather than inspired. For a reader, the disintegration of a non-linear narrative, is too easy to read because of Roy’s playful talent, and will suffer no confusion whatsoever unless you have just woken up after reading low quality crap written by thriller writers, I don’t wish to name.
One of the things, I would seriously argue about the novel is, its rejection of the typical ‘fairy-tale’. The novel changes voices , presents multiple point of views, most beautifully well written are Estha’s and Rahel’s. Certain letters are capitalised, modified and spellings are wrongly written just to showcase the purity of a child’s consciousness; also sibling telepathic connectivity, displaying a strong platonic love of the two soul-mates. It is the most dazzling, the most evocative aspect of the novel, which remains the saddest.
The setting plays a huge role in a fairly tale argument and its rejection. The land of Ayemenem is constructed as a mythical fable, across the river, the historical boundaries, the love laws, the trauma, lies the reality washing upon the peripheries of the family’s breathing consciousness; the truth is soon entering their territory. Their lives are tragic enough before Roy exacerbates their modicum of happiness even more. Everything is described so beautifully; in a lyrical fashion yet there is so much depravity and pain simmering underneath all the beautiful gimmicks of language that Roy so heartbreakingly deploys in her venture. The novel is a magic spell of sadness and depravity of human beings, where the innocence of two soul mates is trapped and finally hurt. ‘Hurt’ is the correct word, because, their innocence is not broken nor shattered, it still prevails painstakingly in the end.
The novel is a phenomenal piece of art notwithstanding Roy’s iconoclastic and overtly political spirit. Yet, one is tempted to think and question beyond the written word, no matter how evocative, the validity of Roy’s world. It is her first novel; a novel which is slightly twisted in itself due to the author’s underlying pessimism; and the problem is not pessimism; it is the lack of optimism even in the most diminutive sense. That somehow makes her less of a novelist but more open to acclaim due to her outrageousness. One might not agree with what I am arguing but then how will our fellow bibliophiles and critics account for the underrated and under-acclaimed reputation globally of the masterpiece, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, which I think is a more omniscient and fulfilling work than The God of Small Things. Precisely because of a simple reason, Roy creates such magnificent characters, such magnificent objects, only to strip them off their mortality or to destroy their lives.
Somehow it makes her less of a novelist, as Neel Mukherjee said the same of V.S. Naipaul. I sincerely believe one can only write one masterpiece out of sheer pessimism, in case of V.S. Naipaul, it was A Bend in The River. After that novel, he didn’t really write anything worth calling a ‘masterpiece’ or a ‘magnum opus’, even though most of them were still great books by the contemporary standards.
I am not contesting against the fact that sad books shouldn’t exist, otherwise we wouldn’t have had masterpieces like Madame Bovary, Atonement, The Remains of The Day, Never Let Me Go, Disgrace, A Bend in The River, and Voices from Chernobyl. Yet I would argue that somehow, inherently pessimistic mindsets can produce one masterpiece but they tend to reduce characters and stifle them out of their humanity on a larger scale than should be.
This is just a point of view, not a criticism against Roy’s great and potent work. The novel is a heartbreaking, devastating and crushing portrayal of human lives that cling to small things when big things flow against the tide, and how small things break the human heart more than the big things in life. The book expands the moral landscape of dilemmas and stands as an iconoclastic work, heroic and courageous. A superb novel which a reader can never forget because of the sheer beauty of Roy’s characters, their feelings hanging on the slate of her lyrical prose, and how they fall and break so delicately like flowers crushed and squelched beneath the footsteps of leather-boots. A fragile and dark fairy tale of emotions. A must read.