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Sunday, 19 January 2014

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, Reviewed.

A prose poem of a novel, with bite. This Indian tale of love, loss, class and betrayal starts, against all the literary school advice, with the weather. But the language is so engaging, so intriguing, that the reader is drawn into this strange world at once.

I love well-rounded characters and this book explodes with them. I love the use of good and entertaining English and this book drips with it. I won’t bore you with a synopsis; there are plenty of those around if you want a truncated version of the story. Suffice to say that the story centres on the relationships within a middle class business family and those that family loves and relies upon.

I learned a great deal about Indian life during the read. The chaos, out-dated traditions, values, iniquities of the caste system, attitudes to authority, God, and religion are all exposed in the narrative. The climate and the landscape become added characters, playing their parts in this complex tale and bringing even more life to a story already teeming with it.

There are flaws, for a reader from England. There are references to Indian culture, tradition and history that arrive unannounced and leave without explanation, often failing to reveal their origins or meanings in the process.  And there are very short, occasional, passages in an untranslated language I could not identify or understand. How much of the richness of the novel I failed to appreciate because of these flaws, I have no way of knowing.

There are a couple of chapters that, for me, appeared to serve no purpose in the story and I confess to skipping through those.

The book is written in a way that keeps the reader engaged, not through action or tension necessarily, but through the exquisite combination of words. This is poetry presented as prose. And the final chapter is so brilliantly drawn, so brutally emotional, that it left me feeling raw; the empathy imposed is such that I doubt any sensitive reader could leave it without tears.

I loved this book, and read the last half at one sitting, reluctant to put it down even though there were fairly pressing reasons I should do so. Thoroughly recommended for those readers who love literature in its accessible form and for whom a story of people in love matters. It’s no surprise this won the Booker Prize.
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