Last night I finished reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. If I’m perfectly honest, while it was a good book, it was a bit of a chore to get through. This book was the winner of the Booker Prize in 1997, so you immediately know that it is going to be well written and is definitely going to have something to offer you. But even this prestigious prize did not make me love this book – like was as far as I got.
It is set in rural India in the 1960’s and centres around two children, Estha and Rahel, whose lives are deeply effected by the death of a visiting cousin from England (don’t worry, you find out about this right at the start so I’m not giving away much!). The story is wonderfully written from the perspective of the children and when looking at everything from the outside, it is quite obvious how unfair parents are to their children at times and how life would be far more simple if we viewed everything as a child does.
In the background of the complex family life of these two children, is the appearance of Communism in parts of India and the always lingering caste system. The caste system is too intricatr for me to try and explain here, so you should click on the link and read more about it. Essentially though, society was broken into different occupational groups (religious, administrative, labourers etc). The higher levels of the caste system were also known as Touchables, ie. you could touch them when handing something to them for example. The absolute lowest in the hierarchy were known as Untouchables – meaning exactly how it sounds, no touching allowed. There was rarely marriage between the castes, or even deep relationships for that matter. If you were born into a certain caste, that was the one in which you lived, worked, married and died.
The family of Estha and Rahel were Touchables – though this term means very little to a small child, which would explain why they had no trouble befriending a young man named Velutha, who was an Untouchable. It was this relationship (in a round about way), that would set the wheels in motion that would cause the lives of Estha and Rahel to be turned completely upside down.
The God of Small Things is a beautifully written book. The characters were complete and it seemed to a rather accurate depiction of life in India during this time. But I could not overlook the melancholy and harshness of reality that was right through the book. I consider myself to be pretty clued in to what goes on in the world – bad stuff happens every day and in the grand scheme of things, it is not a nice place to be in. But even knowing this, I find it difficult to read (fiction or not) about horrible things – most of the time when I read it’s to get away from the real world, not be reminded of it. Some rather unsavoury things occur throughout the book and when teamed with Roy’s very descriptive writing….well let’s just say that it left me a little unsettled.
Overall, I probably wouldn’t read this again in a hurry, but I would read it again. If only so that I take everything in better. It was only 300 or so pages, but felt like a lot more. When I finally got to the end of it, I didn’t even realise that I had reached the end – it just sort of stopped. I would say that this was probably it’s only downfall, which, considering this was Arundhati Roy’s first novel, that’s not too bad.
RATING – 5 out of 10. I found it to be a little bit disturbing at times and at some points it dragged on a bit, but was beautifully written and I think that most people would appreciate that.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – Firstly I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you are easily unsettled by things, but otherwise, I would recommend it to just about anybody as it is a very good book.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Definitely Estha and Rahel, the two-egg twins. They are so wonderfully innocent to the world around them that it’s easy to imagine yourself as a child again while reading this, before we take on the worries and cares of being an adult.