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Book Review: ‘The God Of Small Things’

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a sad book. It is dark, painful and most of all unforgiving.

The book is not easy to read. It starts off with torturous verbosity, challenging and at times even antagonizing the reader. This is not a book into which you can ease yourself. This book from the very first page pulls you out of your comfort zone and never lets you go back. The characters rather than being introduced are shoved into you.

A Venus Flytrap would have been a more appropriate illustration.
The plot revolves around an eventful night when things go wrong; as wrong as they can go. The whole book never allows you to escape from this night; it draws you in, close enough for you to catch glimpses and be mesmerized but just as you are about to make some sense of it, you are yanked away, brutally. This cat and mouse game carries on throughout the book, yo-yoing forth and back, the reader, a mere puppet in the hands of the author. Throughout the book, the reader is made aware of the impending doom but like a moth drawn towards the flame, there is no escape. The deception, if any, is not about the nature but of the sheer intensity.

Ms Roy is an extraordinary author. Her words weave a colourful quilt, the intricacies of design becoming apparent only at the end, when we are able to view the whole work and not merely fragments of it. The author is relentless in her quest to tell a story. In this book, the author does not merely tell a story but in fact manipulates the reader into reading it the way it is meant to be. Having lulled him into a state of drowsiness, she proceeds to clinically remove any and all of the armour he might possess. She is so extraordinarily skilled at this that the reader does not have an iota of suspicion that he is being disrobed of his protection. Having done so, Ms. Roy then attacks him brutally; finding spots where it hurts the most and using the sharpest of tools with the greatest of skill.

Many sentences in the books are often repeated; most often of which is ‘Things can change in a day’. This is a cunning trick employed by Ms. Roy. For make no mistake, this book is neither about one day nor one night; the plot, maybe so, but not the essence. Rather, it is the very opposite. History plays a vital role in Ms. Roy’s story. It does not merely provide background but rather is a character in itself. Hundreds of years of history, accumulated, gathers force and finally plays out devastatingly on that dark, desolate night. Each and every character in this book is chained by history. History defines what they are; history decides what they do. Eager or reluctant, there is but one path that they can take and inevitably all of them traverse on their respective paths, none having the strength to break away, all tumbling towards their tragic fate.

As I have said earlier, Ms. Roy is cruel. The lure of the book lies in the fact that there is no escape. Every word invariably leads you to that fateful night. Every seeming tangent is but a cunning decoy; a mirage designed to shatter your heart. There is not a single character in which you can find solace; all of them are far too deep into the maze for there to be any hope of escape. This book is not about redemption but about realization. It strips humanity of all of its myriad pretensions and lays bare the beast within all of us.

Despite the fact that this book is so content driven, the writing stands out, dazzling you with its brilliance. The writing is consistently sublime, sometimes bordering on the divine. The part where the author dwells at length on aspects of Kuchipudi is simply out of this world.

All in all, this book stays with you. It is by no means an easy read, the sheer force of it often overwhelming you. But if you are able to persist, it rewards you aptly. Pen, they say is mightier than the sword and Ms. Roy is only too aware of it. At times, using it as subtly as a surgeon his scalpel, at other times wielding it with the ferocity and finesse of a ninja, Ms Roy has produced a true work of art in the form of ‘The God Of Small Things’. 

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