Monday, August 11, 2008

The God of Small Things

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Date Finished: August 10, 2008
Pages: 321

I put off writing this review yesterday in hopes that my feelings and impression of the book would become more defined. I still have mixed emotions about this book, but our book club is meeting tonight, so I'm hoping that by writing this I can work a few things out.

I would say that the most important thing for a reader to have with this book is patience. It took me the first 85 pages (2 chaptes) before I really felt like I had a sense of what was going on. The writer, Arundhati Roy jumps back and forth from the 60's to the 90's quite frequently, and often without any warning. The story is is about a pair of fraternal twins, Rahel and Estha, their mother, Ammu, and other family members in Ayemenem, India. The resounding theme of this book is that anything can change in the course of a day.

I think the biggest disappointment for me was the conclusion to the much anticipated story of the death of Sophie Mol. (Mol is used for young girl, and Mon is used for young man throughout this book). Sophie is the twins half-white cousin from England who comes over to visit for Christmas with her mother after her step-father dies. Roy does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what exactly happened to poor young Sophie that took her life. You get the sense early on that her death has had a tremendous impact on the lives of the twins, but it is not until close to the end that you actually find out what happened. For as much build-up as Roy gives to the death of Sophie, I would have hoped that her explanation would be much more in-depth. It basically boils down to the fact that the three children were crossing the river in a boat in the dark of night, and when the boat tipped, Sophie was pulled by the current and unable to resurface along with the other children. With it being so dark out, the children are not able to search for her. All of this is explained in not much more than a page.

I do love the story line of Ammu and Velutha, her untouchable. The caste system is made up of "touchables" who are of a higher class and prestige and "untouchables" who are the lowest caste group and are treated like slaves. It breaks my heart when Velutha's father in a drunken stupor tells Ammu's mother of their unrequited love, and she in turn locks Ammu in her room and has Velutha banished. When the children ask their mother why she is locked up, she blames them for all of her problems. The children, feeling less loved by their mother decide to run away. During their escape is when they lose dear Sophie. Ammu's mother, after hearing of Sophie's death, runs to the police and accuses Velutha. In her mind, there is nothing worse than loving beneath you. She cannot accept the fact that her daughter has had an intimate relationship with an untouchable and will do anything to keep them apart,which in turn makes them star-crossed lovers.

After the accident the twins are separated, Estha is sent to another town via train to live with his father and new wife. Rahel stays with her mother, who has a hard time finding work after being shunned from the family, eventually dies and Rahel leaves for the US. While in the US Rahel marries, divorces and eventually returns to Ayemenem. Baby Kochamma, the grandmother, is scared for the twins to be together because she knows that eventually, they are going to figure out what she did, and her only hope of them not being able to put all the pieces together are to keep them separated. Baby Kochamma's resentment of others finding love stems from her own "unobtainable" love. Father Mulligan caught her eye at a young age, but was never available for Baby Kochamma like she wanted him to be, even in death.

The language that Roy uses is absolutely beautiful, and even though my frame of reference for India is embarrassingly minute, I felt like I could picture the scenes she laid before me and could feel like a part of the background. Even now, I still have mixed feelings about this particular book. It did win the Booker Prize in 1997 (a literary prize awarded each year for a full-length novel written in English). There seem to be quite a mixture of reviews out there, some love it, some hate it, some fall in between. Even though I would not consider this one of my favorite books, I am incredibly happy that I read it. Thank you Trish for recommending this book!


Laura said...

Oh, I don't like Baby Kochamma! She makes me so mad! I have very similar feelings as you do on much of the book. It took me quite a few pages to get into the rhythm of Roy's writing, but it was so unique and descriptive, I'm definitely glad I read it as well! After reading your review, I will maybe just link it to mine and not worry about writing my own! :)

Trish said...

I'm glad it was a mostly positive experience. And I agree with the build-up--when I found out what happened to Sophie Mol I kept thinking--really? That's it? Already? :) I think with all of our different picks for the club we'll be able to experience a wide range of books--which is really exciting to me!

Kari said...

Laura - You have to write one, I'm very interested to hear what else you have to say about it! I felt the same way about Baby Kochamma, but I think that when you feel something that strong about a character, it is a very positive response for the writer. They have accomplished making you emerse yourself into the story and have reactions to the things the characters do!

Trish - I think this was a great pick! It is probably a book I would not have ventured out to read on my own, but like you said, the best part about a book club is experiencing books and authors we may not have read otherwise. I can't wait to see what your next pick will be!!