Friday, September 16, 2011

The God of Small Things

Title: The God of Small Things
Author:  Arundhati Roy
List:  #85 on BBC Top 100
Worth reading?  Yes.

The God of Small Things is a book about what happens to a set of “two egg” twins, Estha and Rahel, after the death of their cousin, Sophie Mol.  It is also a story about what happened before.  Sophie Mol’s funeral takes place in the first few pages, but it is not until the end that we fully learn the circumstances surrounding her death and its aftermath.  Instead, a sense of foreboding permeates the novel as Roy slowly reveals snippets of the story while describing a set of damaged twins twenty-four years later.

The story alternates between two time periods:  the twins at seven and the twins at thirty-one.  At seven, the twins are inseparable, thinking of themselves as unit.  At thirty-one, they have been separated for twenty-four years and Estha rarely speaks, while Rahel feels hollow inside.  There is a sense that this is due to the twins’ lingering guilt and grief, but the extent of those feelings is not apparent until the final pages.

The most striking part of this novel is the author’s use of language.  Roy does not feel bound by the constraints of grammar, but molds language to serve her needs.  In doing so, she eloquently conveys the tumultuous thoughts running through the children’s heads, and, indeed, at times reading the novel is like reading Estha’s and Rahel’s thoughts.  Roy uses the language to reveal their private games and ideas, and their feelings in various circumstances, like when they get in trouble.  For example, when the twins’ mother scolds them, Roy capitalizes and splits up words to show how Estha and Rahel interpret that scolding.  A statement that their mother will discuss their behavior with them later becomes “Lay. Ter.” in the children’s minds, emphasizing how they dread that conversation and recognize their mother’s displeasure.

Towards the end of the novel, Roy also describes how in Malayalam, the native language for the part of southern India where the twins reside, the end of one word blends with the next.  This explains why Estha and Rahel think of the owl that lives in their family’s pickling plant as “a nowl.”  Again, these word games help us connect to the children and understand how they see the world.

The novel is worth reading for the language alone, but Roy’s method of storytelling also makes for a unique reading experience.  While reading this book, I definitely did not feel like the story was one that had been told many times before, and because I felt so connected to the characters’ thoughts, I could not wait to find out exactly what happened to turn two innocent seven year olds into two damaged thirty-one year olds.  I would definitely recommend picking up this book for an interesting read, especially if you are looking for something different.

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