The God of Small Things – Discussion

by reirei1

Discussing Roy’s Writing Style

Rei Tamori

This isn’t the type of novel I would choose for my leisurely reading. I pick books that have a progression of events and evolving characters with mysteries slowly unfolding and leading to another mystery, keeping me curious, and completely immersed in the story. “The God of Small Things” has the same elements, but is too choppy for me to enjoy. Although the metaphors are imaginative and beautiful, there are just too many. There are also too many fragments (for my liking). With so many metaphors and fragments, I find myself reading the same sentence or paragraph more than once because I have to stop and think about what the metaphor is for. As Aurelea mentioned before, most of the main events in the book are already revealed in the first chapter. And the rest have detailed explanations for these events which are revealed by going back and forth through time in the characters’ lives. This writing style of bouncing back-and-forth makes it difficult for me to enjoy reading because I cannot get fully absorbed in it. There is a lot of foreshadowing, hints, and repetition which I recognise, but cannot remember why they are familiar, and so I am forced to pause and go back either a few pages in the book, or into my memory in order to understand and therefore take pleasure in what I am reading.

However, I really like the metaphors and phrases on their own. They are descriptive, unique, wistful and again, beautiful. Another thing I really like that Roy does is capitalizing many phrases, giving them their own title and right. Some examples are: “She used her windows for specific purposes. For a Breath of Fresh Air. To Pay for the Milk. To Let Out a Trapped Wasp” (29). ; She deemed them Capable of Anything” (29).;“It was her idea that Estha be Returned”(31). ;“…She had loved them Double” (155).; “He was the Keeper of Records” (156). To me, this random capitalization of words shows the reader that these phrases are important to Roy and have a special significance. Her random capitalizations and intricate descriptions and metaphors make me feel that she is writing with a stream of consciousness type technique; that nothing about this story is necessarily planned or edited because she is writing as she thinks and what she feels intuitively about. And in, “The Salon Interview” by Reena Jana (that Aurelea showed us in class on Monday), Roy explains how she wrote the book, and how, like I had initially felt, she didn’t plan exactly the way the book was going to be written:

This is your first novel. How did you start writing it? What was your process? How did you guide yourself through it?

If someone told me this was how I was going to write a novel before I started writing it, I wouldn’t believe them. I wrote it out of sequence. I didn’t start with the first chapter or end with the last chapter. I actually started writing with a single image in my head: the sky blue Plymouth with two twins inside it, a Marxist procession surrounding it. And it just developed from there. The language just started weaving together, sentence by sentence.

How did you arrive at the final sequence that became the novel in its finished form?

It just worked. For instance, I didn’t know, when I started writing, that this book would take place in exactly one day. I kept moving back and forth in time. And then, somehow, I realized that in some of the scenes, the kids were grown up, and sometimes they weren’t. I wound up looking at the scenes as different moments, moments that were refracted through time. Reconstituted moments. Moments when Estha is readjusting his Elvis puff of hair. When Estha and Rahel blow spitballs. When Ammu and Velutha make love. These moments, and moments like these in life, I realized, mean something more than what they are, than how they are experienced as mere minutes. They are the substance of human happiness.

In the part where she talks about the “moments like these in life” and says that “they are the substance of human happiness”, I think that some of the moments she is referring to are the capitalized phrases.


Do you think that this book would have gotten as much praise and attention if it did not have so many metaphors and meticulous descriptions and/or was not out of time sequence? Like if it had only the plot, characters, and few metaphors and phrases? Or was it the poetic-like words that made the book so successful?

Why might a book like this one be more interesting or thought provoking with its hidden meanings, foreshadowing, back and forth jumping through time and concentration on several different characters in different chapters, than a book like “How Late it Was, How Late”, where there is focus on one main character and the plot is carried through in sequence as each page is read?

Do you think that more people would consider “The God of Small Things” closer to “real” literature than “How Late it Was, How Late”? And if so, then do you think the reason would have something to do with the above-mentioned elements?


6 Comments to “The God of Small Things – Discussion”

  1. I agree with you that, at times, I started to think “Ok yes these metaphors are beautiful, but I think you’re over doing it!” On the other hand, I agree that it is her stunning grasp of language and how to use it, manipulate it, capture it in a bottle and smack you in the face with it that got this book so much praise. Like you said, in the first chapter she tells us exactly what is going to happen, yet I was still enthralled the entire time.

    I think this is connected to How Late it Was, How Late because in both instances it is not the overall plot that grabs you as much as another detail. In Sammy’s story is was the connection created between the reader and the character. In The God of Small Things, it is the incredible attention to detail. Interestingly, they both won the Booker Prize as well.

    Also, as we discussed in class on Wednesday, the subject matter of the book is extremely controversial. So in answer to your first question, no I don’t think she would have received as much praise if she had just laid the plot out chronologically and left out any poetic language. I think that she would have hit people a bit too hard with the harshness of what happens instead of buttering them up for it. Also, I don’t think the book wouldn’t have been quite so interesting without all the beautiful, descriptive language and attention to detail.

    I’m not sure if I would say that this book is more meaningful to me than How Late it Was, How Late but I would guess that more people would enjoy reading it and therefore it could reach a wider audience.

  2. If you take something away from the book it would not receive as much praise. The reason a book receives praise is because of it as a whole. I like the story of the book. But if it went in order it defiantly would not be as exciting. What made this book interesting is you are always looking for something

    Again it is interesting to me, because you are always wondering what caused the events. Estha he cant talk and the whole book i am waiting for that one incident which changes him. But it never comes.

    I think more people would understand ” the god of small things” then “how late it was how late” so they would attribute it to be more real literature. But that does not mean they are right. They are both interesting pieces of Literature.

  3. I totally agree with you, there is a lot of repetition throughout and I constantly found myself going back and forth, rereading to remind myself of the origin of the repetition and them try and make sense of the whole thing. Yes, it is all carefully thought out and structured, however, it demands much more from you as a reader. Personally I believe this is the kind of book that requires a second reading in order to grasp all the messages that Roy addresses. In contrast with “How Late it was, How late”, which is the kind of book that is difficult to put down as it involves you in the fast pace of the narrative, leaving the book for a day or two and returning to it is easy since you can easily get back to Sammy’s thought process, while with Roy’s novel I found that getting back to it was more challenging since the book is not in chronological order and at times you are not quite sure how many years have gone by!
    Regarding your first question, I agree with the last post, because the book has been praised for what it is, and not from what it could have been if things were done differently. The particular structure and attention to detail is particular to Roy’s style and bring attention to the novel. This book also has more characters and all of them contribute to the theme of the novel in particular way thus making it more thought provoking since there are more details to make sense of than in “How Late it was, how late” where the attention is solely on Sammy and you don’t have more characters provoking you to think about anything else rather than Sammy’s hatred towards the bureaucracies of the system.
    …“Real literature”… I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of literature!…ill get back to that question!

  4. In the interview, Roy talks about the moments that make up the “substance of human happiness.” I think that without including the meticulous (and sometimes exhausting) descriptions, hidden meanings, foreshadowing, etc., the story would not have achieved its purpose. She mentions that these moments “mean something more than what they are, than how they are experienced as mere minutes,” and this is the same approach that she wanted readers to take with her writing style. Taking anything away from the book’s structure would have altered it completely, and it is probably a safe bet that it would not have received the same kind of praise and recognition.
    Unlike “How Late It Was, How Late,” this novel encourages…or more like forces us to savor the progression of events. I would argue that this doesn’t necessarily make it more interesting than the former. It’s more of a matter of taste and which side of the spectrum you prefer to dabble in (since both novels seem to be on completely opposite ends in terms of speed/ narration/ style.)
    In terms of the dangerous “literature” question, I think that “God of Small Things” is much closer to the traditional notion of literature in terms of its style and language. Also, (in part through her impeccable ability to dress often mundane and unnoticeable things in beautiful descriptions) Roy manages to take very controversial subject matter and present it to readers in a manner which is more acceptable and easier to swallow. I’m sure this would be a reason for many people (critics included) to choose Roy over the rawness of Kelman in terms of the coveted “real literature” title.
    PS- Have we actually come to any sort of conclusion on THAT?

  5. Roy’s quote “what does it mean to be human” I felt was particularly insightful and in her writing she reveals the nature and thoughts of her characters in a much more relatable fashion than Kelman in “How Late…”. As for the questions, I felt that the book had potential whether laid out in chronological order or not, Roy’s writing style (at least in this work) lends itself to the disjointedness of human life. She teases out a much better conception of stream of conciousness writing than Kelman did I feel, her chapters jumping around like human thought pattern naturally does(maybe thats just my brain though) and making her repetition bearable in that I could at least relate to having to deal with recurring thoughts all the time.
    Secondly I think that Roy’s use of multiple characters and times/settings was particularily effective in giving her characters credence bringing us back to the issue of trust raised with Kelman. We were only ever getting a single biased view from his single main character whereas in Roy’s book, we are presented with intertwined accounts of the same events and this makes it easier to believe it was actually a reality.
    Real literature?
    Maybe my comments come a little after the gun but its my belief that Literature is language just as conciousness is language. Without language to give shape to ideas within our conciousness, we cannot share a common ground. Real Literature is the literature that anyone can pick up and draw a conclusion from that other people can either agree or disagree with.

  6. I could argue that The Gog of Small Things is a more legitimate piece or literature than How Late it Was How Late. However, considering that literature is regarded not only as the art of creating aesthetic and appealing writing but also as the importance and relevance of its content, I would rather assert that every literary work is unique and praiseworthy, nonetheless, some works more successful than other ones just because they are more likeable (or as the previous post said, more traditional).
    I appreciate the art in Roy’s writing because this is reflected in the in the plot, the narrative and language and other elements of the like, in her ability to present her thoughts or voice a message. Maybe it is just that I like to read about Indian thought more than the language people use in Glasgow.

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