Let’s start off being honest. It took me a good 80 pages (the first two chapters) to get into this book. I can certainly see why people are turned off from this book and my potential enjoyment of the book was incredibly questionable. But after that first 80 pages (yes, a quarter of the book!) I fell in love with the writing, the characters, and couldn’t put this book down. For me, this is the type of book that comes along a few times a year and keeps me reading in search of the next one. (Yes, I am incredibly stingy with those 5/5 ratings!).
The God of Small Things is the story of how everything can change within the course of a day. Whole lives can be uprooted, fates can be changed, innocence and childhood can be lost, and death can find anyone. The story, oscillating between past and present, centers around twins (separate egg twins), Estha and Rahel, and the events that lead up to and follow the death of their English visiting cousin, Sophie Mol. Roy focuses on how so many intricate but separate details slowly come to fit together and how the ripple of all of these small things combined can still be felt years after.
Because part of the pleasure for me was slowly piecing together the timeline of the book and how everything fit together, I don’t really want to give any more plot details than that. Roy gives the basic facts of the story in the beginning chapter, but the frequent jumps between past and present and the movement between so many character descriptions make it difficult to grasp anything solid in the book until later (hence my initial frustration). I’m not sure if after the second chapter I simply got used to the writing style and was able to discern whether I was reading about Estha and Rahel as children or adults or if the writing became more fluent, but I soon found myself absorbed in the story, devouring every word and being consumed by Roy’s language.
I simply can’t do this book justice with my thoughts–they are too many and I could write about this book forever. Some of my favorite aspects were Roy’s descriptions–sometimes funny and more often heartbreaking. Her descriptions are often repetitive, taking ideas and playing with them throughout the novel, and because of that I felt I really knew and understood Estha and Rahel in all of their misunderstood childhood innocence. This repetition also helped me to remember events that were previously mentioned but soon forgotten because of the lack of development at the time. She describes everything in such detail that I could almost feel what the characters were feeling or see what the characters were seeing. And even though only little snippets of the plot were allowed at a time (teasers, really), I found myself wanting more, needing to know what happens despite the fact that I already [mostly] knew at the beginning the outcome of the novel.
In addition the the rich writing style, there was so much food for thought in this book. Roy combines a number of difficult themes that are crucial to the outcome of the story. Most important, for me, was the “Love Laws”–who deserves to be loved and how much and why. Set mostly in India during the late 1960s, untouchability was still prevalent for so many (I don’t really know the history of the caste system and from what I understand this has been outlawed now??), and one of the key characters, Velutha is an untouchable. Estha and Rahel love him despite this, mostly not understanding what makes him so different, but the treatment of this special character was at times incredibly difficult for me to read. Other important themes seem to center around Western and Eastern ideals and the incongruities that exist between them. Sophie Mol’s half whiteness and the ability for the grownups to immediately love her because she is white (a lot of these incongruities are seen through the children’s eyes), Christianity versus Hinduism (and even Western Catholicism versus Eastern Orthodox), democracy versus communism, etc. Plot aside the book had me thinking about so many different ideals and why certain things are the way that they are.
This is a difficult book and has gotten mixed reviews from others, but this book captured my heart and will stick with me for a long time. I was incredibly affected by the book–something that hasn’t happened for me since the beginning of the year (particularly with Atonement and The Book Thief) and I am glad that I finally experienced its magic. I hope to re-read this book again one day and could easily do so this weekend and discover so much that I missed. If you haven’t read this book and plan to–stick through the first couple of chapters and don’t forget to savor every word.