House on the River

Review of The God of Small Things; Arundhati Roy; Penguin Books 1997; Rs 450; pp 350

– Shana Susan Ninan

Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize winning debut novel is wonderfully endearing and emotionally intense. She has succeeded in rousing the readers’ innermost sentiments, and keeping them riding high until the last line of the book. Her skill in crafting a colourful first page is just awesome – who could think of:

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst… The wild overgrown garden was full of the whisper and scurry pf small lives. In the undergrowth a rat snake rubbed itself against a glistening stone. Hopeful yellow bullfrogs cruised the scummy pond for mates.

Rahel and Esthappen, a pair of two-egg twins, and their lives rule the plot. A post-colonial tension in the air, rise of the Communist party in central Kerala, workers’ rebellion and cracks in the feudal forts. Of course, Velutha steals the show. His otherwise impossible relationship with Ammu, the twins’ mother, is emphasised through small talks and nuanced narratives. It’s the small things that matter, and they make the bigger things relevant.

The God of Small Things offers a longish glimpse into the complex relationships between members of the Ipe family. Based on personal differences of opinions, Baby Kochamma even goes to the limit of her character by betraying her own family members. Uncle Chacko has a British wife and daughter, the two of whom have separated and visits him in his Ayemenem home after her second husband meets with an accident.

Roy has enlivened us by engaging all five sense with her careful choice of words and word pictures. Metaphors are rife, and there’s no dearth of alliterations. Themes of love, tragedy and betrayal find space in the story. Women characters are strong and come forward as assertive and often, extremely independent.  

The concepts of love and sexuality – almost on the same sides of a coin – are reiterated. Sex can be unifying as well as dividing. Societal norms, caste hierarchy and familial differences can often dictate who we bed with. Time is another important motif that recurs as the image of the moth.  

The author as captured almost all the facets of life in Ayemenem – weather, friendship, politics, post-colonialism, sibling rivalry, sexual abuse, class wars, marriage, fisher folk and feudal life.

Estha’s and Rahel’s separation and pain are healed when they unite, their souls finding peace amid the turmoil and noise around them. It’s as if the two were one person, all along.

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Rating: 7.8/10 (6 votes cast)
House on the River, 7.8 out of 10 based on 6 ratings

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