Arundhati Roy's 'The God of Small Things' won the Booker Prize in 1997, and yet is the author's only novel - she has since gone on to complete several collections of political essays on India. It is a beautifully written book, densely poetic and focuses on a richly tapestried story, which crosses and marks a great time-span and many generations.
The author's only novel focuses on forbidden love, the Indian class system and the rules of ''who should be loved, and how. And how much.'' These are applicable to Indian culture at this time, but also to societal pressures on any type of love in any era or country. There is a sense of caste and creed being thrown out of the window with regard to true love, and the power of love to break through societal parameters of acceptance.
What I personally loved about the book, something it shares in common with much of what I've been reading recently (The Woman in Black, Rules of Civility, Fitzgerald's short stories) is that it luxuriates in itself as a story. Roy even goes so far as to refer to her role as revealing and creating a narrative. In a story in which there are few physical books (or maybe even none at all - I couldn't be sure) the family revel in stories. Poems and stories in the novel are read out loud after being memorised in oral form and the family is obsessed with 'The Sound of Music'. In itself, love of a story is one of the 'small things' to appreciate - stories are prominent in the face of control over literature, just as love is strong in the face of oppression by the Indian class system. Stories are shown as important in that powerful events in the family's timeline are centered around them and are paralleled by their contents - the cinema is the backdrop to the Estha's molestation and the book's climax runs seemingly in tandem with a narrative of lies told to the police.
The natural world, nature and wildlife, is contrasted strongly with industry and power. The new hotel and its inhabitants are an apalling group, who force their ways upon their surroundings. Whilst there is an admiration and pride in the local community for the family's British connections, there is a sense of rivalry between the two, and what they each bring to the family. Throughout the book, dichotomy is brought to the forefront, between the big and the small, the manmade and the natural amongst other comparisons. But like the sets of lovers, two converse opinions can often be brought together and made to be compliant with one another.
The narrative is told in the third person, but with undertones of the perceptions and the language of children. The twins' (sometimes forceful) advance into the adult world is all the more strongly drawn out in this way, through the contrast between actions and the language used to describe it. Even in the final chapters, we are shown the twins as adults, who still act with arguably a childishly simplistic view of the world. The contrast between childhood, age, experience and innocence is also fascinatingly threaded into the plot; a phrase which pops up often in the story is 'a viable die-able age', which brings to my mind connotations of fate and destiny of aging through the idea of being 'viable' to die in a masterplan created by a God of sorts. The phrase justifies life but also demonstrates a sense of unfairness, in that some of the deaths in the book are not of those who have reached a 'die-able age' - in this way, Roy includes the sorrow and grief of death, whilst throwing shade on the beauty and brilliance in life.
Roy has certainly written a masterpiece of epic proportions, which deserves the praise which has been heaped upon it. Beneath the layers of this multi-dimensional and transcending novel, lies a story of life, love and appreciation for what one has. As the story hurtles forwards and backwards in time towards its tragic denouement, Roy never loses sight of her intentions with the novel. Whilst highlighting the struggle of Indian society in what is probably a more organic way than in her later essays, she also touches on universal themes of love, loss and class in new and exciting ways. Her command of language is exquisite, as is the richness of both narrative and prose. Acute and outstanding, Roy has created a narrative so rich and breathtaking, you'll want to read it again and again. I certainly do.