THE PLOT: The God of Small Things is about the day Sophie Mol died. This is introduced at the beginning of the novel and the whole story goes backwards and forwards in time, leading up to her death and dealing with the aftermath.
The main characters are two-egg twins, Rahel and Estha. Their mother, Ammu, has recently divorced her husband and brought her young children back to her family home in rural Kerala, where her brother, mother and aunt live.
When Ammu’s brother, Chacko, invites his English ex-wife and mixed-race daughter to stay it sets off a chain reaction. The twins feel jealous of their cousin Sophie Mol, the adored child from abroad. They react to this danger to their place in the household, while dealing with extra-familial threats to their safety and finding their place in the world as the children of divorced parents.
MY RATING: This book receives five stars. Set in India in the 60’s and 70’s, the novel subtly and overtly explores communism, religion, race and caste in a variety of ways. Arundhati Roy’s mastery of language is the outstanding triumph of this piece of work. The rich, evocative descriptions of rural Kerala as the heart of darkness, coupled with the playful comments on how the twins view their world (cue Afternoon Gnap) are outstanding.
GOOD BITS: Given the spate of YA novels that concentrate on the events leading up to the untimely death of a young person, it would be easy to discount this book based solely on the core plot. However, its beauty is that it’s so much more than the main events. It’s the setting and theme of the story, which hangs the novel together. Each character is fully rounded out, with their own backstories, reactions, emotions, as well as passages told from their point of view.
As Roy states about Hindu stories in a wonderfully arrogant way; ‘The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets….you know how they end’ (p.229). This is a reflection of the novel, where you know that Sophie Mol will die, and you quickly deduce how and when and why, but you want to keep reading because Roy is telling a classic story in a beautifully written way, which will endure the test of time.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: At the start of the novel, I was worried that it would be too slow and a case of style over substance. However, once Estha was confronted by the Orangedrink Lemondrink man (around chapter 3), the plot and pace noticeably picked up. Therefore, you may need to stick with it and plough on for a while. Once the novel got going, some of the digressions and side stories and long descriptions made me feel slightly impatient. Finally, I didn’t like the last scene with Rahel and Estha, which I felt undermined (instead of strengthened) their twin connection.
OVERALL: The novel is beautiful. There’s no other way to describe the feeling of reading this book and entering this world. It’s also playful and intelligent and so quotable, it feels like Roy has some hitherto unexpressed universal human wisdom inside her fingertips.