Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Thing, surprised the world with its unconventional style, controversial subjects and unforgettable emotion. It earned Roy a Booker Prize as well as obscenity charges in India. Her novel tells the story of two-egg twins, Rahel and Estha, growing up in India, and the events that passed that changed their entire lives. After a separation of 24 years, the twins are reunited in the house they grew up in where they attempt to understand and come to terms with the devastating events that shaped their lives. Moving between present day and 1969, the novel brings to life Kerala, India and the twin’s family through the eyes of seven-year-olds. With a divorced mother and half-Hindu heritage, the twins are constantly challenged by the conventions and restrictions of Indian society. However, small events and simple acts can bring about massive change, and the twins are soon faced with tragedy. The loss of life, the loss of love and the loss of innocence, plague their lives from that moment on.
The most notable thing about Roy’s first work is the style; however, beneath the surface Roy paints an extraordinary picture of the human condition through characterization and social commentary. Repetitive, descriptive and as whimsical as a nursery rhyme, Roy’s inventive language contrasts the playfulness of a child’s mind with the sadness of the events that pass to create a bittersweet depiction of the collapse of the family. Roy has the ability to delve in and out of minute detail flawlessly which enables her to highlight events that may appear to be insignificant at first and create an unpredictable and unconventional plotline. Roy’s rhyme and repetition also bring to life the numerous characters that play major roles in the story. With the imagination of a child, she plays with the English language as much as Rahel and Estha do throughout the novel. Roy’s characterization is complex, and it’s difficult to even identify one, sole, protagonist. However, the twin’s family and friends are brought to life through insight into their past, present, hopes and dreams. Both the most painful, and the most wonderful, aspects of human nature are illuminated as these characters struggle against each other and against the outside world. Within the family lies conflict between those who wish to break free of society’s constraints and those who feel the need to maintain the social order. The struggles permeates into the community, and unveils a powerful message about society and, “Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify”(292). Roy succeeds in creating an unconventional novel that examines modern society, in terms of class system, cultural identity, family structure and the deeply-rooted, historical values that continue to govern people today.