Review: The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things
The God of Small Things
Arundhati Roy
Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 1997

Review Copyright © 1998 Garret Wilson — August 17, 1998 8:45pm

As he read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, he immediately had Two Questions:

(a) This is really a First Novel?

And then,

(b) Seeing that life is such a Fleeting Moment, will Arundhati Roy soon have a Second Novel available? As good as the First?

A runned hotty. A ruined hot tea. Roy. Even English-speakers get the last part reasonably correct.

He looks up absently across the new Borders. The Newest Borders in the World. Tulsa, Oklahoma. 81st and Yale. Wished that the man with the baby would be a little quieter so he could Concentrate. So that he could Concentrate, Write, Describe, and Review. He began.

"The God of Small Things is set in the American southwest, in the decade after the 60s’ civil rights movement, and examines the interracial persecutions and intra-racial problems that occur in a society trying to move into modernity."

No, that’s not right. That’s another book. Paradise. Another book by another author. An author hailed by Time Magazine, awarded by Pulitzer Prize judges, admired by university students and (presumably) by their teachers. A Worthy author. A Worthy book. With a Worthy subject matter. But The God of Small Things is another book. By a different author.

Quite possibly a better book. And a First Novel at that.

The baby cries as she’s joined by two other men, middle-class men trying to bond in a bookstore. Bookstore baby bonding.

He tries again.

"The God of Small Things in many ways reflects the themes in Paradise, from racial tension to imagery of twins. Small Things is the book that Paradise might have been intended to be."

Might have been. If Toni Morrison were from South India. If Toni Morrison wrote like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tongue in cheek. Caution to the wind. Nothing in check.

Might have been. If Toni Morrison were an architect.

Does Roy build houses? Or does she only design them? She writes her books. After she has designed them. She builds them from the walls down. From the walls up. She attaches the shingles and then builds the roof. Then she lays the foundation. Right before putting in the windows she puts in the front door. And the back door. Then she closes them, one at a time. Click.

And Click.

The men have bonded, the baby is taken, the small coffee corner of the store is a little quieter. The computer keys make muted clicking noises as if to murmur a protest against his lavish admiration of a First Novel, so much that he would attempt to mimic her style. Her own style, yet also of another. An Other. A different work from decades before that also elicit deep feelings of satisfaction at such language.

Rahel put on her sunglasses. The Word became angry-colored.

"Take off those ridiculous glasses!" Ammu said.

Rahel took off her ridiculous glasses.

Ahhh. Page 81.

The style of An Other must certainly have made its contribution to this Architect’s wonderful first architecture, he reasoned, because he realized that few other novels had made him feel such a stillness, a quickening, a heightened excitement simply through their use of language. After this Reasoning, he even encountered what he further reasoned must surely be a tribute to the Other:

"Gatsby turned out all right in the end it is what preyed on Gatsy, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men."

An allusion of acknowledgment. Page 38. In a Reading Aloud Voice.

But the style of An Other is taken to new heights, to new issues, to portray universal triumphs and defeats.

"He’s a filmactor," she explained to Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol, making Adoor Basi sound like a Mactor who did occasionally Fil.

"Just trying to attract attention," Baby Kochamma said and resolutely refused to have her attention distracted.

But Baby Kochamma was wrong. Adoor Basi wasn’t trying to attract attention. He was only trying to deserve the attention that he had already attracted.

"My aunt, Baby," Chacko said.

Sophie Mol was puzzled. She regarded Baby Kochamma with a beady-eyed interest. She knew of cow babies and dog babies. Bear babies—yes. (She would soon point out to Rahel a bat baby.) But aunt babies confounded her.

More often, more intense than An Other. Page 137.

Universal triumphs. Ridiculous, rose-colored glasses that made the World look angry and succeeded (for a while) in blocking out the hurts and fears of a World that had gone crazy with old Injustices. Centuries-old Injustices, each hobbling along the streets of Ayemenem swearing to see yet another birthday.

Universal defeats. The painted hands of a watch that would forever mark the end of a childhood that had never begun. In a young country suffering under the wrinkled hands of past oppression. Centuries-old Injustices.

Universal triumphs that culminated in universal defeats, a succumbing to the Terror to come. Was that the Terror, the Untouchable, the dark God of Small Things, with the leaf that made the monsoons come on time?

The History House.

Where, in the years that followed, the Terror (still-to-come) would be buried in a shallow grave.

Page 290. Maybe So.

Or was the Terror the universal defeat itself, the moment that brought with it cold, wet, quiet Air? On Page 310? The same that their mother had felt years before? On Page 320? When, years before and Pages after, history had been turned upside down on the shore across from the History House?

What is Known is that History itself continues. More Terrors await. Young children in a world that has been around only slightly longer than Centuries-old Injustices. A world that is not old, not young. A viable, diable age.

August 17, 1998 9:50pm

OK, I have to stop there. I don’t have a suitable ending for my little writing venture. There have seldom been books that lend themselves so much to group discussions. Who is the God of Small Things? Is he good or bad? Are the Small Things the little things that are really important in life, the things that get ignored or even killed by what society deems the Big Things? What exactly is the Terror? What is Roy trying to say by the actions of the two-egg twins? How does that relate to the story? Do we, the readers, want it to relate that way?

But again, I’m going to stop. This is group-discussion territory, through and through. Of course, one can deeply enjoy this book quite well alone. The hint of F. Scott Fitzgerald winding its way through the language is great. The language clever. The emotions deep and rending. A great book. With more than one Terror waiting for the reader. Maybe a few Terrors too many.