The nice thing about books is they generate numerous conversations. While I was nose-deep into The God of Small Things, my roommate said, “How long will you keep reading? Ab bas bhi karo! (Translation: Stop it for now!).” Another flatmate flipped through the pages of the book and said how much the book had depressed her when she read it – so much so that she left it midway. I, for your information, did not leave it midway. Though I had every intention of doing so at first and in the middle.
The day I got this book through Kwench and was into the first ten pages, I wanted to return it right away. However, post-understanding the voice of this book, I learned to appreciate the beauty in it.
The God of Small Things is poetry in prose. The clever adjectives, the poignant yet vague details are part of a poem that takes Time to sink in. A few times I felt that I need a few more years to appreciate fully where the author was coming from.
The peculiar thing about this book is, its strengths are its weaknesses too. The moving back and forth in time generates active interest in the reader, increasing the want to know how things came to what they are today. According to the author,
“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic.”
– The God of Small Things
Following this reason, Ms. Roy lays bare the facts of the story early on. You know what has happened, and the story eventually comes around, after meandering this way and that. However, at times, having known the end, I found myself continuously going through different permutations and combinations in my mind, trying to form my own idea as to what might have happened on that fateful day (when things changed) that led to the pervading gloom of the protagonists’ lives. It was distracting for me, because I could not simply enjoy the story as it was being told. I was wondering if it would not be better if things were told in a simpler way, facts led bare as and when they happened, rather than the whimsical back and forth-ness in time.
Reading this book is like being in a daze. You are with the characters, you know sad things are happening in their lives, but after you close the book it is not really the characters’ pain that stays with you. Your head is not populated with their world. There is a strange disconnect. For example, until quite late into the story, I had no idea how much Ammu loved the twins, how the twins themselves were connected – in short I was clueless about the personal interactions among the characters until quite late – that is most probably because of the absence of that kind of dialogue and actions in the beginning. For example, we do not know what any given day, a normal day, in the lives of the people in Ayemenem is like.
One interesting thing about this book is the repeating catchphrases (Anything can happen to anyone, Things can change in a day etc.). They stay with you and make you nod your head when they appear. At the same time, especially when the story is going slow in the middle, it plays with your patience – you wonder if it isn’t entirely unnecessary, whether a straight time-frame might have suited the story better.
That said, for an aspiring writer, The God of Small Things is a treasure. It is the most experimental book that I’ve read so far. While reading it, you can see for yourself which devices work in a novel and which don’t. You can see for yourself how well being vague may actually work in a book if done well. Most importantly, The God of Small Things gives you the freedom of experimentation – it is like you have a palette and a canvas to yourself and you can do as you feel with it. For me, the author has re-created the English language itself, by choosing to use it as she willed, exploring the boundaries of the language, bending and twisting it. For someone like me whose first language is not English, this factor is very significant, because for most of us the language feels like a solid object, with rigid rules. Ms. Roy’s language is fluid and it flows of her will, not the other way around.
Like I said previously, this is one book that totally makes you choose sides: you either like it or your don’t. And indeed, The God of Small Things is a deeply melancholy book, so take care to know someone well before you suggest it as a must-read.