This is a guest post by South African writer Lucinda de Leeuw, who blogs at her quaint notebook, tweets as @LucindaDL and contributes to ITCH magazine. She can be reached by email at [email protected].
It is quite an awesome feat posting as a guest on an author’s blog, if you’re anything like me: a fervent reader and writer. When I read Andrew’s tweet (thank you, social media!) I responded almost instantaneously with little thought as to what or how I’d write. But here I am, hazy from weeks of deadlines, exams and just enough doses of sleep to be coherent, with a concept and three lines of intro. Andrew remarked that he enjoyed my own blog’s reflections on books that I had read, and well, if that was not a hint as to what I should write about, I guess I wouldn’t know a nudge from a wink.
The enthralling The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997) is what I’ll be musing about. I read the novel earlier this year and was completely taken by both the beauty of it and Roy’s writing. Its narrative is that of forbidden love set in the milieu of socially and politically fragile India. It plays on the history of these ills that surround the family of protagonists. There is no one main character; their lives are intimately intertwined, almost too much so. The events in the narrative are composed mostly out of the relationships between the familial ties. Sentiments are drawn liberally from that of the parent-twins’ relationship, this forms the mould the twins would later find themselves grown into.
The beauty of the story is revealed in its structure, which is non-sequential, bitemporal and draws on a myriad of foreshadowing and flashbacks. It is also narrated mostly from the perspectives of fraternal child-twins, Estha and Rahel, who are oddly childishly-wise (ahem) in their ways and expressions. The twins share a relationship that is nothing less than poetic, in either sadness or enchantment, mostly sadness. And loss. Loss in love, and death. Metaphorically, and in a literal sense. They are essentially, two halves of one whole.
The beliefs of the elders in the narrative are set in stone; they’re traditional, conservative, largely conflicted, clutching onto the structure of class which is dressed in the politics of the caste system in India. The caste structure is wholly interesting; I am utterly intrigued by it, lovely to know about as a prelude to reading Indian literature. They live in a society ridden with history, post-colonial politics, patriarchal impact, legitimacy, race and inequality, socioeconomics and that of imperialism and globalisation – these are strong topics Roy often writes about in her other works. These aren’t explicitly mentioned either, so I’ll tip you to keep your wits about you. In essence, the novel is quite smart; you have to read it with both your mind and heart to get the gist of its beauty.
There is a strong sense of trauma too, as I’ve noted earlier in loss and death, but if you read the text closely, the thread of tragedy and trauma are indeed quite prominent. Pick up for the nuances of violence, in words, and otherwise. It renders a heartrending read when you realise its vulnerability in its entirety.
Some of the book’s readers I’ve spoken to didn’t quite ‘get it’ – makes for an elitist read if you love it, I guess. Roy wrote a wonderfully intricate tale, using language that’s unconventional and lyrical, alas, those qualities did receive criticism from some parts; the story would be incomplete and lacking some of its significance if structured differently, I feel. Also, her use of delicacy in language adds a sense of grace to some of the hideous bits in the novel.
There is so much more I could say with regard to what underlies the story; about what troubles the characters or about the qualities of loneliness, love, grief and belonging, the abjections and manipulations, the poignancy of symbolism and ideologies; about “the Love Laws” and sacred connections, sex and violence, mutability and preservation, the presence of the grotesque, the light and the dark, “small things” contrasted with the “Big,” and lastly, that of the bared backdrop of humanity throughout.
The God of Small Things might be set in the village where the author grew up, but the narrative she sheds light on can be understood universally. Arundhati Roy received the Booker Prize literary award for this book, her debut and only novel thus far, so the message did in fact resound and resonate. A book worthy and, perhaps, even necessary of a re-read.
My reflections are not book reviews, and I try to give away as little of the plot as I can muster. Rather, I attempt to share with you what I came to love about a book only enough so as to stir an interest in you. I hope that this post achieves exactly that.
‘Roy peels away the layers of her mysteries with such delicate cunning, such a dazzling adroit shuffle of accumulating revelations that to discuss the plot would be to violate it. Like a devotionally built temple, The God of Small Things builds a massive interlocking structure of fine, intensely felt details. A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.’
– John Updike, New Yorker