A Classic Tragedy in Unconventional Prose

by ashleywestenberg


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“Who should be loved. And how. And how much.”

It is not a question or statement that we often reflect on, yet Arundhati Roy does just that when presenting us with The God of Small Things. Roy gives us a story of truth: that we live in a judgmental world where love is entirely conditional.

The God of Small Things is a story of two identical two-egged twins living in Kerala India. Coming from divorced parents Rahel and Estha live with their mother Ammu, grandmother Mammachi, enemy-Aunt Baby Kochamma, and Uncle Chacko who is wished by them to be a surrogate father. Another important character, the God of small things, is ‘Untouchable’ Velutha the man Estha and Rahel love by day and who is loved by Ammu by night. Roy takes us through a shocking journey of discrimination, racism, sexism, betrayal, pedophilia, death and most importantly conditional love. In prose that is written like free verse poetry Roy chooses to narrate The God of Small Things through the eyes of Estha and Rahel allowing the reader to establish a genuine sense of reality in an easily acceptable manner. It also allows the reader to revisit childhoods’ vivid imagery, innocence, optimism and purity. The God of Small Things highlights social conflicts and shifts focus from within family, to Indian community, through to a larger scale of British assimilation. There is no direct blame in this book, because The God of Small Things is rather a book of details, small things that reflect issues much larger than themselves.

The God of Small Things is not to be read as a high paced thriller, it is a story to savor, to appreciate word for word and one that lingers. Roy does not waste words in the narration of her story but commonly repeats them to enhance their full meaning. Furthermore, this tale is not for one who is looking for immediate gratification or who lacks the patience to absorb each thought. Roy has a special sensitivity to language; she uses language as an art, contrasting colors and images, hiding or revealing. Roy explains that her repetitive style of writing is due to the comfort in repetition. As well, she says “I’m trained as an architect; writing is like architecture… that is why the words and thoughts of Estha and Rahel were so playful on the page… I was being creative with their design.”

The God of Small Things is a thoroughly enjoyable read that is delivered in an entirely unconventional way; a change that is easily embraced. However, Roy’s delivery of tragedy is classic, similar to what she calls The Great Stories, where the ending is foreseeable yet you want to know again. Arundhati Roy is a talented diverse writer who deserves to be read, recognized and appreciated. I believe Roy’s purpose in writing The God of Small Things was to remind the reader that literature, like life, is not and should not be typical. Or better quoted: “Never again will a single story be told as through it’s the only one.” (John Berger)

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