I picked up The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy off the shelf at a thrift store. “Winner of the Booker Prize,” The cover said in tastefully-restrained block capitals. Winning a major literary award is often a good sign but not always. Sometimes I think an Emporer’s New Clothes Effect takes hold and the judges are ashamed to admit that the opaque prose left them baffled, so they give a prize to a mixed-up jumble of words. Not so in this case. This was a good story written with a clear if creative voice.
Near the beginning of the book (but not the beginning of the story) we are at the funeral of Little Sophie Mol, Loved from the Beginning. Something has happened, something Horrible, but even though it is only days past it has become Something No One Talks About. When Ammu, mother of two-egg twins, goes to the police station and says, “I killed him,” even the police do not want to talk about what happened anymore.
The language the author uses is playful, coining words and bending others to reflect the Indian ears that hear them. The language provides rays of light even when things are dark. In a way the whole book is a Muddled Ramble, a story that builds not through time but through the growth of the words themselves.
The story moves about in time, simultaneously tip-toeing up to the Horrible Events and drifting away through the aftermath. Before, we pass through the trip by the family to pick up Sophie Mol at the airport (cousin of the two-egg twins, Loved from the Beginning) and the events of that trip that set in motion the final run to the Horrible Events. After, we see a home with no life in it, the occupants slowly decaying or leaving, slowly dying. The family business long dead, the Bar Nowl that lived in the rafters of the pickle factory now just a pile of bones in an unused vat. Even the river, once powerful, is dead and sluggish. All that’s left is a pair of two-egg twins, one mute, separated for twenty years.
a) Anything can happen to Anyone.
b) It’s best to be prepared.
What ties all the threads of the narrative together, what really defines the flow of the story, are words. Special words, coined capriciously, that, as the story progresses, take on greater and greater weight, until some of them are almost breaking under the freight they must carry. Later. Lay. Ter. Only when the words are ready can the Horrible Events be told. And after the Horrible Events, there’s only one thing left to tell, one thing that had the power to drive all the rest.
This is the sort of writing that is both humbling and motivating, the sort of story I aspire to write—if I had the courage to really let go. Read this book; you won’t be sorry.
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