Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Date Finished: August 8, 2008 #45
Pages: 321
Rating: 4.5/5

Let's start off being honest. It took me a good 80 pages (the first two chapters) to get into this book. I can certainly see why people are turned off from this book and my potential enjoyment of the book was incredibly questionable. But after that first 80 pages (yes, a quarter of the book!) I fell in love with the writing, the characters, and couldn't put this book down. For me, this is the type of book that comes along a few times a year and keeps me reading in search of the next one. (Yes, I am incredibly stingy with those 5/5 ratings!).

The God of Small Things is the story of how everything can change within the course of a day. Whole lives can be uprooted, fates can be changed, innocence and childhood can be lost, and death can find anyone. The story, oscillating between past and present, centers around twins (separate egg twins), Estha and Rahel, and the events that lead up to and follow the death of their English visiting cousin, Sophie Mol. Roy focuses on how so many intricate but separate details slowly come to fit together and how the ripple of all of these small things combined can still be felt years after.

Because part of the pleasure for me was slowly piecing together the timeline of the book and how everything fit together, I don't really want to give any more plot details than that. Roy gives the basic facts of the story in the beginning chapter, but the frequent jumps between past and present and the movement between so many character descriptions make it difficult to grasp anything solid in the book until later (hence my initial frustration). I'm not sure if after the second chapter I simply got used to the writing style and was able to discern whether I was reading about Estha and Rahel as children or adults or if the writing became more fluent, but I soon found myself absorbed in the story, devouring every word and being consumed by Roy's language.

I simply can't do this book justice with my thoughts--they are too many and I could write about this book forever. Some of my favorite aspects were Roy's descriptions--sometimes funny and more often heartbreaking. Her descriptions are often repetitive, taking ideas and playing with them throughout the novel, and because of that I felt I really knew and understood Estha and Rahel in all of their misunderstood childhood innocence. This repetition also helped me to remember events that were previously mentioned but soon forgotten because of the lack of development at the time. She describes everything in such detail that I could almost feel what the characters were feeling or see what the characters were seeing. And even though only little snippets of the plot were allowed at a time (teasers, really), I found myself wanting more, needing to know what happens despite the fact that I already [mostly] knew at the beginning the outcome of the novel.

In addition the the rich writing style, there was so much food for thought in this book. Roy combines a number of difficult themes that are crucial to the outcome of the story. Most important, for me, was the "Love Laws"--who deserves to be loved and how much and why. Set mostly in India during the late 1960s, untouchability was still prevalent for so many (I don't really know the history of the caste system and from what I understand this has been outlawed now??), and one of the key characters, Velutha is an untouchable. Estha and Rahel love him despite this, mostly not understanding what makes him so different, but the treatment of this special character was at times incredibly difficult for me to read. Other important themes seem to center around Western and Eastern ideals and the incongruities that exist between them. Sophie Mol's half whiteness and the ability for the grownups to immediately love her because she is white (a lot of these incongruities are seen through the children's eyes), Christianity versus Hinduism (and even Western Catholicism versus Eastern Orthodox), democracy versus communism, etc. Plot aside the book had me thinking about so many different ideals and why certain things are the way that they are.

This is a difficult book and has gotten mixed reviews from others, but this book captured my heart and will stick with me for a long time. I was incredibly affected by the book--something that hasn't happened for me since the beginning of the year (particularly with Atonement and The Book Thief) and I am glad that I finally experienced its magic. I hope to re-read this book again one day and could easily do so this weekend and discover so much that I missed. If you haven't read this book and plan to--stick through the first couple of chapters and don't forget to savor every word.

They also read it:
Joy - Thoughts of Joy
Nymeth - Things mean A Lot
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Wendy - Caribousmom
Raidergirl3 - An Adventure in Reading
Fyrefly - Fyrefly's Book Blog
(this book comes up so many times because of the 1001 list, so forgive me if I've missed you and let me know in your comments--but please leave more than just your link for some reason I find it really annoying when all I get is a link with no other commentary--eeks!)


Fyrefly said...

Very thoughtful review, although I disagree. :)

I'm one of those people who just never got into this book, and came out of it annoyed and frustrated, although you did a very nice job explaining why you liked it... enough to make me re-examine my own reaction.

My review is here:

chica said...

Nice. I read this book years back and loved it. After your review, I feel like reading it again so that I can review it too. The book blew me away too, and none of the ethnic lit theme books since then have been half as good a read.

Ramya said...

hey trish! i know exactly what you are talking about. i read this book a while ago and all that i remember is that i hated it and couldnt wait to finish it. thought the writing was too crude and i couldn't understand what she was trying to get at!
I am reading this book the bonus book for your classics challenge.. am about a 150 pages into it and i am totally getting it now.. i am glad i decided to read it again!

Debi said...

Wow, Trish, what an incredible review! I've shied away from this book simply because I've heard it's so hard to get into. I know that's really not a good reason, as some of the most satisfying reading experiences come from just that type of book...just still I hesitate. You've definitely made me believe this one would be worth my time!

Nikki in Niagara said...

I haven't read this book yet but it;s on my list for the booker challenge. I've been looking forward to it and your review makes me want to read it even more,.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to get my hands on this book forever through Bookmooch (and miss every opportunity it becomes available!). I might have to give in and simply go to the library.

Ana S. said...

It took me a long time to get into this one as well. And I can also see why it doesn't work for some people. I read it very slowly, and I think that helped me appreciate the language more.

But anyway, yeah, it moved me a lot too. Even now, almost a year later, I can still get teary-eyed just from thinking about it. Especially the final chapters.

Beautiful review, Trish.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Fyrefly - I can completely understand where you are coming from with your reaction--it took a lot of work and close reading to get past much of the difficulty and frustration. This was my pick for our upcoming face to face bookclub and 1. most people aren't planning on reading the book and 2. I think I'm the only one who really enjoyed it. Oh well--that happens, right?

*Chica - I really enjoyed Rushdie's Midnight's Children and parts of this book reminded me a bit of that one. Have you read it? I hope you get a chance to revisit this one soon!

*Ramya - when I saw your comment about your friend and you disagreeing on this book in your classics post it made me really curious. I'm guessing she really liked it and you didn't? Anyway, I'm glad you are liking it better this time around and I really look forward to your thoughts!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Debi - Thanks--I think I had a more difficult time formulating my thoughts on this book than any other review I've written and I still keep thinking of things that I wish I had said. There's just so much in this book! It is tough--several of my friends are currently reading it for our book club meeting on Monday and they are all having a rough time getting through it. But like I said, once the story starts coming together in the second half of the book I couldn't put the book down.

*Nicola - I've only read a handful of Booker books (I think 7/41?), but this definitely goes toward one of my favorites. I also really enjoyed Midnight's Children and The Bone People. I hope you enjoy this one!

*Bookchronicle - Ha ha--I hate going to the library as well! I hope you get a chance to pick this one up and I look forward to seeing what you think!

*Nymeth - I think I read through the first couple of chapters too quickly, but I finally slowed down and really took in everything she wrote, which made a huge difference. I was sobbing by the end of the book yesterday--absolutely heartbroken. A very poignant and moving story.

Jeane said...

It sounds like a fantastic book- if you can get into it! Probably a bit too heavy for me right now- recently I've lost patience with books that are tedious or slow at the start- which is why I haven't read any Dickens in ages.... but when I have more peaceful hours I might tackle this one.

Thoughts of Joy said...

I absolutely love when a book has such a profound affect on our heart. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does - wow! I truly am happy that this book was one of those special ones for you. :)

Laura said...

I couldn't wait any longer to read your review, even though I still have a ways to go before I finish. I definitely agree that it takes a little bit of time to get into, and to get used to the writing style, and her diction (although I'm still getting used to that)! Even though it isn't easy to read, I already feel that it is worth my time to read it. I now have so many questions about the culture that I want/need to look up (i.e. untouchables, Syrian Christians), that I feel I will have gained a lot from reading it.

I think it will make for very good discussion on Monday!

Karen said...

Great review Trish! This is one of my all time favourite books, I've read it a couple of times now and it's always interesting to hear what others think of it.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Jeane - I think that's the main problem--it is difficult to get into. If I didn't have to read it right then and there I might have shelved it for a little longer. Once I got used to the writing the reading got much quicker.

*Joy - I love that as well, but it doesn't happen very often. The other books I mentioned that stirred this type of emotion in me I read in January--hopefully that much time doesn't pass before I find the next one.

*Laura - Ha ha...I hope its not because you were thinking--why the heck does Trish like this book so much! I've been doing a lot of looking up on Wikipedia in the past week and there are still some things about the book that I don't understand that maybe we can tease out during the meeting. I'm glad that you are feeling a little better about the book and hope you end up enjoying it. If not--hopefully the next one will be better. I think I might go to the library and get Eat, Pray, Love on audio to listen to on the way home from work.

*Karen - I can easily see this book being one of my favorites--although probably not in the top favorites. It's definitely one I will remember for a long time!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Ok, this is unrelated to this post (sorry) but it's a reply to your comment on my blog:

So far no one else has let me know that they're having problems loading my blog. I hate to say it, but I think it's just you. :( Please let me know if it improves, or if it continues ... not sure what I can do, but I'll try!

Anonymous said...

Trish--Thanks for your comment on Bookfoolery about her review of my novel MATRIMONY. MATRIMONY'S coming out in paperback at the end of the month, and if you'd like a copy for review on your blog, and/or if you'd like to do a giveaway, let me know. You can reach me at Jhenkin at SLC dot edu.


Joshua Henkin

Trixie said...

Yay for books! I agree with that. Trish - Love your blog and your book list. I will be back to browse some more for great book ideas. Thanks!

Trixie said...

Hey Trish,
Thanks for visiting my blog!
The book I had listed on my book list was The Bone Thief written by a friend of a friend from another website. But now I have to check out the Book Thief too.
And I wanted to say that maybe the reason you've heard so much recently about Three Cups of Tea is because we were reading it together on the Travel the World (from a Comfy Chair) group Bethany started on the Book Blogs group on Ning. Here's the link for the group:
Looking forward to chatting more about books!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Heather - It might just be my computer and it doesn't seem to happen every time (I know it happened with your anniversary post, so maybe it has to do with my computer not liking the videos--even though I love them!!). Glad no one else is having the problem, though.

*Trixie - Sorry I misread that! Well, The Book Thief is very good anyway. :) I've heard a little bit about the book group but hadn't heard of it until recently (shame on Bethany for not spreading the word to me since I'm the one who introduced her to this bookblogging world!). ;) I'll definitely have to check it out!

Darlene said...

Thanks for the great review Trish. I love when a book affects me like that-you know you've read something good. I've not read this one but I have heard a lot about it. I think I'd have to be in the right frame of mind for it but it's definitely going on my TBR list. It sounds like something really worth reading.

Bellezza said...

I read this book years and years ago. It took me a couple of starts before I finally got into it, but like you, it ended up being dear to my heart.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Dar - definitely worth reading! I was really worried about how my bookgroup would receive it because it is very different than what some of them normally read, but overall I think that the outcome was pretty positive. I hope you like it!

*Bellezza - I have to ask and you're probably going to giggle at me, but I'm trying to figure out how to pronounce Bellezza. :) In my head i've always though Belleeza but now I'm thinking that doesn't make sense because of the double z. So, Bellessa? Ha ha!

Anyway, yes--totally agree with you about this one. After reading your review of Kafka I kind of wondered if that might kind of be the same in a way?

Terri B. said...

I'm pretty stingy with my 5 star ratings too. I don't generally put too many books down with a do-not-finish and so have been rewarded for my persistence. Thanks for the heads-up to stick with it on this one.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Terri - Even if I put a book down, I try try try to pick it up again in the future. There have been a few books that have been shelved for years, but I still hope to get around to them sooner or later. What would a "5" book be for you? I think The Book Thief is the only one I've ranked as a "5" this year!

Anonymous said...

WOW, great review! I've had this on my bookshelf forever, but haven't yet picked it up.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Stephanie - I hope you like it!! I've had it on my shelf for about a year (so really, not that long), but I'm glad I finally read it.