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Review: Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things

Winner of the 1997 Man Booker Prize 

“Ammu said that human beings were creatures of habit, and it was amazing the kind of things they could get used to. You only had to look around you, Ammu said, to see that beatings with brass vases were the least of them.”

I’ll start by saying that these books made me want to cry. A lot. Okay – let’s start the review!

The God of Small Things starts is about Rahel and her fraternal twin brother Estha, who are living in the Indian city Ayemenem after the independence. It follows their life, ridden with unfortunate events and even more unfortunate relatives, but centres around a single pivotal moment. That day, “that changed everything”, culminated from a number of seemingly small things, hence the title. Unlike so other novels that explore the relationship and life of two siblings (which seems to pop up A LOT in the books I read. Not to mention Communism) Rahel and Estha failed to have a coming of age experience. That single event in their childhood seems to have stunted their emotion growth, causing them to retreat into their own worlds rather than making sense of the world at large.

Another theme that runs throughout the idea of who is deserving of love and how much, which speaks to the caste system. For this reason, the book did spark some controversy. I feel that because the story is largely told through the eyes of children, the interpretation of the social hierarchy is especially compelling. Rahel observes the love that her half-British cousin, Sophie, receives by having ‘almond-colour’ skin and the abuse that one of her closes friends, Velutha, receives just for being an Untouchable. She, like every other character, consents to these social norms. As a result, everyone is a victim and everyone is silenced.

For this reason, among so many others, this book can be quite a downer. I remember one part of the book where Rahel and Sophie are crushing ants (go figure) and Sophie tells Rahel to keep one alive so that it can be lonely. I thought that was one of the profoundly dark and depressing things I’ve ever read. It was about 1000 times more soul crushing than “et tu Brute?” and all the deaths in Harry Potter combined. That being said, I think it’s so beautifully written and has a lot of important things to say.

And like many reviewers have said, Roy language is so mesmerising that she almost writes with her own language. I had to read so many lines over and over again trying to grasp what she meant.