The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

[amazon_image id=”0812979656″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The God of Small Things: A Novel[/amazon_image]I bet you thought I had given up reading for good! I admit I have been going through a real dry spell the last year or two, and it’s frustrating because the couple of years right before, I read excellent book after excellent book. I don’t see how I’ll meet my goal of reading 50 books at the pace I’ve moved this year, and much as I would like to give myself a break given that I moved last summer, I feel that at this point, I should have settled into a good reading routine. Bah.

At any rate, Arundhati Roy’s only novel, [amazon_link id=”0812979656″ target=”_blank” ]The God of Small Things[/amazon_link], was the final novel I taught for this school year, and I finished it just a hair before the students. That is Very Bad and I Do Not Recommend It. However, sometimes, it’s all you can do to stay afloat. So of course, I knew how things would shake out, and I didn’t get to see the story unfold naturally, as I would have if I had read it for pleasure. The fact is, I am not sure I would have picked up this book to read for pleasure, and how sad that would have been. It’s a beautiful book.

One of the things folks probably say too much about this novel is that its style is reminiscent of William Faulkner’s, and it truly is. He is a favorite of mine. When I taught the novel, I urged my students to be patient. This novel is like a puzzle. You know how you put it together, and you don’t have the whole picture until you get to the end? But there is a point when you can see how it is going to come out, and you realize what it is you are putting together? That is what this book is: It begins in the middle, and the beginning is somewhere in the middle. The end is in the middle, and the middle is at the end. The nonlinear narrative may pose a challenge for some readers, but it is a worthy one.

To start with, the description of Ayemenem in Kerala, India, is absolutely gorgeous. The green trees drip with fruit and the buzzing and whirring of birds and insects fills the air. The river, the deceptively quiet river Kuttappen describes as looking like “a little old churchgoing ammooma, quiet and clean,” but is “[r]eally a wild thing” (201), as the children learn from personal experience. It seems you can always tell when an author has truly inhabited a place she writes about because the description is so vivid that you inhabit it, too, for the time while you read the book.

I admit the narrative made it difficult to follow and put events in their proper place. A timeline, added to as the reader fills in details, would not go amiss. It will take some time to fall into the flow of the nonlinear narrative. Give this one a little longer than you ordinarily might give a book before giving up on it.

In terms of characters, I found myself fascinated by Ammu, the mother of twins Rahel (from whose point of view most of the novel is told) and Estha. Her choices fascinated me. One minute I found myself empathizing with her, and the next, I hated her. Her aunt, Baby Kochamma, was also a fascinating character. She is a master manipulator the likes of which you rarely see, but she, too, has a kind of tragedy at her core, even if it is of her own device, that provokes pity.

I have to recommend this book highly, most highly to those who enjoy Faulkner and who like to read about exotic locales. If you are not either of those, give it a chance anyway. It’s quite well written—gorgeous, lush prose in the English that for some reason, only Indians can write (I have no idea why that is). Aside from that, it tells the moving story of the destruction and decay of a family because things can change in day.

Rating: ★★★★★

Ten Fictional Best Friends

Holding hands

Iliana posted her list of ten fictional best friends, and I just love memes like this, so I had to participate, too.

  1. Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series: The boy wizard from the eponymous series captured my heart about nine years ago, and hasn’t let go. I’m widely known among family, friends, and co-workers to be the biggest Harry Potter fan they know. What I like about Harry is that he has had a great deal of responsibility thrust upon him, and even though he’s not perfect, he does the right thing. He learns kindness and the value of true friendship (witness how he changes regarding wanting to be seen with Neville and Luna from book 5 to book 6).
  2. Una Spenser from Ahab’s Wife: I think she’s one of the coolest women I’ve ever met in a book, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up. She makes difficult choices, and she lives with the consequences. She’s warm and passionate. She loves life.
  3. Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility: Elinor is so wise and sensible. She is kind to everyone and puts others’ feelings before her own. She would be the most loyal friend one could ever have.
  4. Anne Elliot of Persuasion: Anne is a little shy, and she doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone. She is true to her friend Mrs. Smith, even when her family thinks the woman is beneath her. She’s smart and frugal. No one in her family listens to her, but others see her value.
  5. Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice: Who couldn’t be in love with Lizzie Bennet? And if it seems to be cheating to pick three Austen heroines for best friends, I say in my defense that these books are my literary comfort food and make me feel good about the world, and therefore why shouldn’t they contain more of my literary friends than other books? She’s spirited. She loves her sister so much that she stands up to those she feels have slighted Jane. She cares for her family. She wants to marry for love.
  6. Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser of the Outlander series: If you’ve read this series, then you know Claire is the gal who made it acceptable and even desirable to have a FWA. And you know what I’m talking about if you’ve read the books. She is intelligent, passionate, and extremely cool. I would definitely want to have her help in a bar fight (not that I’d ever get near one, but I digress).
  7. Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird: Who couldn’t fall in love with Scout’s voice? She calls things like they are. She loves and admires her incredible father. She befriends Dill, who is the kind of kid one can easily imagined being slighted on the playground, and she looks up to her wise elder brother Jem. She is also the one to connect to Boo and bring him out of his exile in his house. She’s a great kid.
  8. Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay) of The Mists of Avalon:  She’s not evil, as we learn in this book—just misunderstood. She wants what is best for her brother and his country, and she winds up a pawn in the game so many others seem to be playing. But she’s intelligent and powerful and ultimately much more sympathetic than the Arthurian characters we traditionally view as “good.”
  9. Meggie Cleary of The Thorn Birds: She has a difficult life and chooses a difficult path for herself. She is, by the end of the novel, a pretty tough broad. Maybe too tough. But she loves completely and unreservedly.
  10. Davey Wexler of Tiger Eyes: I can’t remember how many times I read this book. I know I wore out my copy. Davey lived through a traumatic experience. She is brave and intelligent. She is a good friend.

Honorable mentions go to Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories, Christabel La Motte from Possession, and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, although she’d probably hate me if she knew me in real life.

So like Iliana, I invite you tell us who your best fictional friends are.

photo credit: Valerie Everett