If there was ever a case of the narrative outshining the actual plot, The God of Small Things would take the cake. I mean, when you’ve finished the book and replay the story in your head, it doesn’t come across as a very magnificent one. You would be able to retell the entire story in five sentences at the most. But retelling the actual narrative, of the deeply moving character details, and all the hoops and loops the book takes you through, that’s a totally different ballgame. And one you can never really achieve satisfactorily.
Because this story – Of two twins hurled inside a chaos that is life: a life of small things, big hopes but overly vicious emotions – is all in the way it is told. In the way you are let into each of the characters’ heads. And in the way the multitude of details are so deftly unraveled. Like peeling the layers off an onion. Quite fittingly, some might even get teary-eyed by the end.
To reveal even an iota of the story to someone who hasn’t read the book yet would be a serious crime, because this is a book best experienced knowing nothing going in. And just letting the author steer you on the course of the journey. Even more so, because you practically will be told the ending to the book in the very first chapter! How do we get there then, basically forms the crux of the story.
I’d say the magnificence of this book simply lies in the way the story is interwoven with multiple narratives, seamlessly jumping across space and time and yet, never really confusing the reader. This, in my opinion, is the author’s crowning achievement. So the book doesn’t really have an end and a beginning. It starts with the end, and ends with a scene that practically starts off the whole thing. I did not have any trouble getting into the book(some people found it hard, apparently), as I was completely taken off my feet with the imagery from the get go.
Arundathi’s descriptive skills are something to be raved about, because there is detail in this book – a lot of it! But never once do you feel that it is gratuitous, never once does it get boring. Whether she’s describing the rain, the house, or the people – the detail is what brings it all to life. It’s what makes you one with the narrative. That you really are inside the story, seeing everything through the eyes of the narrator.
So no wonder I wished the book would never end.
This is a much discussed aspect of this book and something that I could talk about forever. Arundati invents an English of her own, which gives the prose a distinct flavor that you will not find anywhere else. There’s interesting wordplay, a few recurring motifs that pin it all together, and the distinct Indian-ness that’s also refreshing for a change.
Also, her sentences have an almost lyrical beauty, sometimes striking, oftentimes captivating. Like pearls in a necklace. I lost count of the times I had to go back and re-read a sentence as I’d be enamored by the meaning. And never once because I could not comprehend it.
But that doesn’t mean all you get is divine poetry. Arundati never shies away from mentioning the awkward. So you will hear about penises silhouetted against mundus and women using the restroom with equal restraint. Too bold for a book that came out in 1996 in India? You bet. But also something that adds to the nonchalant realism this book overflows with.
As I was reading this book, I kept on wondering why I really wasn’t getting bored! Because this, at least from the outside, looks like just the type. The thrill doesn’t lie in the story; it lies, I realized, completely in the way it is narrated. Because you feel genuinely interested in the fate of these characters and why they act in the way they do. And because all of this comes into play when you’re figuring out why the things that happened in this book, had to happen in the first place.
What else can I say now? There’s a reason why this one won the Man Booker, why people throughout the world took to it and why people are still reading this even after almost two decades of its release. The emotions are universal, that’s why.
Now I know I have fervently tried to keep this review spoiler-free. I purposefully wanted to see how much I’d be able to write without telling anything about the contents. Turns out, a lot more than what I thought. But I do want to write up an in-depth discussion because this book deserves one. I cannot wait to go back and read it all over again.