Roy and the Love Laws

by melaniewyn

Melanie Anderson
Review #3

Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things, is a fascinating work of art. The John Berger quote provided by Roy before the story begins states that “never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.” And she stays true to this by weaving the views of the many characters involved in one story into a novel. For anyone looking for plot twists and shockers this is the wrong book. But for anyone looking for incredible descriptions, beautifully connected words, and insight into a potentially unfamiliar culture The God of Small Things is a gold mine.
This novel is centered around the concept of the “Love Laws.” This concept may be foreign to many readers but is central to the culture of this novel set in Kerala, India. Roy reminds us that, for practical reasons, she will start her story at the arrival of Sophie Mol. Yet the story really began thousands of years ago “in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much” (33).
The Love Laws define everything in the Ayemenem house, the main location of this story. From Mammachi, the Grandmother and head of the house since the passing of her husband, right down to Estha and Rahel, twin grandchildren of Mammachi, they define exactly what role in society each person belongs. So, as the plot centres around the arrival from England of Estha and Rahel’s cousin Sophie Mol, the reader can find out exactly how the distribution of love, and with it the giving and receiving of respect, honour, and intimacy, is understood in India.
For example, the Love Laws explain why Estha and Rahel are considered illegitimate to their grand-aunt: because their mother married a man from a different caste and religion, and then had the nerve to divorce him. The laws also have times of confusion such as when Rahel had to clarify with her uncle whether her mom would be able to love his daughter more than herself. Would the Love Laws allow such a thing?
Since these laws are generally defined so clearly, the plot does not have many surprises. In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to almost every significant event that will occur and through the Love Laws we understand the significance of these events. However, the plot does not follow the timeline of events; the book becomes impossible to put down as one wonders: What will come next? When will we know more about that?
Moreover, the novel presents such controversial material as pedophilia, incest, child-mortality, and inter-caste intercourse. Some of these scenes are explained through the previously mentioned laws, but some are unexplainable even through those. Yet Roy presents each scene with such poise and poetic devices that a reader is guided effortlessly through topics he or she might usually feel uncomfortable around. Her way of describing such issues through unique word choice and imagery puts these awkward topics in a position to be discussed rather than ignored.
Readers looking for a plot that rises and falls and has surprises and twists along the way should look for a different book. But for anyone who is ready to experience a unique novel, one that has its surprises and beauty in the wording while covering real and controversial issues through a time-scattered plot, I whole heartedly recommend The God of Small Things. Impossible to put down; more impossible to forget.

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