Friday, January 22, 2010

"The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy

Summary: Twins Rahel and Estha have been separated for over twenty years, ever since the tragedy involving their cousin Sophie Mol's death (and the Terror) that occurred when they were young.  Covering various points in time, the novel focuses on the relationships between and histories of a family: the twins Rahel and Estha, their divorced mother Ammu, their uncle Chacko, their grandmother Mamachi, and their greataunt Baby Kochamma.  The relationships are pulled and challenged by personal desires and social customs.  Taking place in a small town in India, the novel focuses on the events leading up to and the aftermath of the tragedy which consumed all their lives.

Musings:  Sometimes I feel a bit intimidated when reading "Good Books" (those books esteemed by major award lists and literary critics).  I feel the need to think about the book differently, or focus on the writing in a way I normally might not, instead of just focusing on the book itself.  Although The God of Small Things doesn't have the literary weight of, say, Shakespeare or Faulkner or something, I felt somewhat overburdened with the need to recognize the "lush, lyrical" (according to back cover) nature of the book.  This was completely my own fault and kept me from enjoying Roy's novel as much as I think I could have.

Nonetheless, when I did let myself get into the book, I was taken away by the rich world and characters Roy has created.  The characters, even the children, have complex emotions and feelings, and the way in which the children connect with the world felt authentic.  The novel is full of sensual description which affects both the characters and the reader.

A significant amount of time is spent building up to and revealing the tragedy that has destroyed the characters' lives.  I thought I would become increasingly annoyed with the repeated portents of doom (much as I did in The Book Thief), but as the novel went on, the references to future and past became more natural.  The tragedy, when it unfolds, is more poignant and less sensational than I had first imagined, which made it all the more potent.

The ending of the novel focuses on two personal relationships, and I found those scenes the most touching and moving of the book.  At its core, the The God of Small Things focuses on the struggles between personal desires and convention and the small choices that forever change lives.

**This book fulfills the first part of the "T.B.R." category of the TwentyTen Reading Challenge.  I picked it up at the NCTE convention in November, and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since.

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