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Thread: Arundathi Roy: The God of Small Things

  1. #1
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    India Arundathi Roy: The God of Small Things

    Quite surprised not to see a thread on this already (though that could just be my searching skills!). Just finished it and found it very moving and liguistically interesting. Much of it is written from the point of view of chldren, which can be tedious, but here serves to heighten the ridiculousness of the adult world. If you add in politics, the case system and some excellent evocations of Kerala then it all adds up to a novel I was sorry to finish. The only slight criticism is that for the last half there's a slightly over-portentious sense that "something bad" is going to happen - and when it does it can't quite live up to the billing. I've read that Roy is returning to fiction after some time writing political non-fiction - good news for us all...

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    I am only 23 pages in the book, but I already have a lot of problems with it. It starts immediately with thick layer of beautiful images and in the first 4-5 pages reads like a poetry, albeit with a good dose of macabre images that beg explanation, but are left hanging in the air implying some major traumatic events. Then the similes take over the text and just run on in a never ending tide, slowing the reading enormously until it almost becomes impossible. I can see where she tries to express the horror of life while attempting to dodge cliches and oversentimentality. But sentimentality oozes through the text nevertheless. It's like an inverted world where major events in the protagonists' lives are alluded to or stated bluntly only for the narrative to zoom in on the details symbolizing mental states of the protagonists, densely covered with a tropical meaty layer of impressionistic vignettes, weaving the dense thick web of images, epithets, tropes. There is some magic realism already but it feels exaggerated. But I work hard and stay within suspension of disbelief. Somewhere on the page 20 I start to moan and look for something else to do, as the scene of Rahel's student years and her brief sordid sojourn in the Land of the Free is so comics-like noire and despondent, the whole thing devolves into a parody of itself. Then through the gaping seams come gushing streams of pure female cuteness and another pile of images my irritated mind stubbornly refuses to incorporate. What is this passage about the Big God and the Small God? I have no clue. Why is it there? Why is 90 percent of these 23 pages were a collection of sordid metaphors and negative images all begging for pity or call it compassion for the tragic something which is not revealed. I already don't care about the characters as they just float passively through the dreary life just like in Slaughter House 5, which actually I felt reminded of reading these few pages. There is a similar gloom and endless repetitive massing of a same sentiment until a desperate for air reader puts the book aside and goes looking for something positive to cheer his mind, something like a football game on TV. Hey, tomorrow is Real Madrid vs Barcelona! Life is good after all.

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    I keep hearing of this book, it turns up in quiz questions, frequently, and the title is compelling. If I see a copy in my library I'll probably give it a go.
    "Man cannot do without beauty, and this is what our era pretends to want to disregard"
    Myth of Sysyphus ~ by Albert Camus

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    Quote Originally Posted by altai View Post
    I am only 23 pages in the book, but I already have a lot of problems with it. It starts immediately with thick layer of beautiful images and in the first 4-5 pages reads like a poetry, albeit with a good dose of macabre images that beg explanation, but are left hanging in the air implying some major traumatic events. Then the similes take over the text and just run on in a never ending tide, slowing the reading enormously until it almost becomes impossible. I can see where she tries to express the horror of life while attempting to dodge cliches and oversentimentality. But sentimentality oozes through the text nevertheless. It's like an inverted world where major events in the protagonists' lives are alluded to or stated bluntly only for the narrative to zoom in on the details symbolizing mental states of the protagonists, densely covered with a tropical meaty layer of impressionistic vignettes, weaving the dense thick web of images, epithets, tropes. There is some magic realism already but it feels exaggerated. But I work hard and stay within suspension of disbelief. Somewhere on the page 20 I start to moan and look for something else to do, as the scene of Rahel's student years and her brief sordid sojourn in the Land of the Free is so comics-like noire and despondent, the whole thing devolves into a parody of itself. Then through the gaping seams come gushing streams of pure female cuteness and another pile of images my irritated mind stubbornly refuses to incorporate. What is this passage about the Big God and the Small God? I have no clue. Why is it there? Why is 90 percent of these 23 pages were a collection of sordid metaphors and negative images all begging for pity or call it compassion for the tragic something which is not revealed. I already don't care about the characters as they just float passively through the dreary life just like in Slaughter House 5, which actually I felt reminded of reading these few pages. There is a similar gloom and endless repetitive massing of a same sentiment until a desperate for air reader puts the book aside and goes looking for something positive to cheer his mind, something like a football game on TV. Hey, tomorrow is Real Madrid vs Barcelona! Life is good after all.
    Yeah, I got you..........maybe you should just watch football on TV and read Sports Illustrated.

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    Quote Originally Posted by Hamlet View Post
    I keep hearing of this book, it turns up in quiz questions, frequently, and the title is compelling. If I see a copy in my library I'll probably give it a go.
    It is a masterpiece. It's one of the best novels I've read in my life.

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    Altai, I haven't read this particular book nor seem likely to do so, but I had a similar experience with two books by the Canadian poet/novelist Anne Michaels: Fugitive Pieces and A Winter Vault. Especially the first one, which was about the Holocaust, was written with such beautiful and dripping lushness, I couldn't take the subject matter seriously. And the similes kept piling up--you could tell that the prose was being concocted by a runaway poet.

    Roy has been in the news lately, provoking some heated political commentary and is not looked favorably upon in her own country. She hasn't written anything worthwhile since this novel, and seems to be a one-book wonder.

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    The place where the action takes place is in the southern part of Kerala , the state at the bottom of India, if you look at the map. I come from there ( well, may be 200 odd km north, speak the same language, Malayalam). One of the key aspect of the book are the socio - cultural fabric of the of the "time and place", which is important to appreciate the book. What she has done maginificently is to stich them ogether in her narrative with remarkable restrain. If there are any specific clarification in these lines, I shall be glad to help.
    Jayan



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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    Liam, she has been writing a new book for the last couple of years, let's see what comes out of this. But yeah, "runaway poet" she is. I don't really mind poetry in prose as such, I love Nabokov's fluid lucid poetic prose, some extremely melodic texts of Joyce are a pure pleasure to read, I guess it's just this particular kind of poetry I have problem with.

    Stiffelio, sorry if I offended you deriding your favorite book. I know this book got Booker and I know that the whole bunch of NY times and Co reviewers lauded it as a masterpiece of modern literature, and I see why, but it just doesn't work for me (and no need to get personal, please). I am now on page 70 and I have lost any interest in the book. I already guessed the plot more or less but I just can't force myself to wade through the pages and pages of cute similes. I think I've got inoculated for similes for the rest of my life. I mean, some paragraphs in this book read like a list of similes, really, it just got too repetitive and redundant. And then those verbless sentences. Short. One word sentences. Like a shot from a shotgun. In a deep winter forest. On a skyblue day when I lost Innocence. I mean, it's an OK technique when done properly, but on and on she overuses it squeezing any element of freshness out of the text making my eyes sore every time I stumble upon another "like" phrase or verbless phrase, or a phrase with Capitalized Big Words or words in italics, all the possible gimmicks to add extra emotion and a hint on deeper layers which are all pretty obvious and lie on the surface. But still she seems to be so unsure of herself she hammers home every point multiple times just in case a naive reader still doesn't get it.

    But to be honest, after page 50 the narrative kind of picked up and there was a whole good chunk of it which read pretty well, but then this jumping in time technique took over and it seems it is here to stay so I really don't know if there is any redeeming quality left in the book to go till the end. Well, maybe as kpjayan pointed out, there is the whole historical aspect, a microcosm of Keralan society after WWII, which is worth checking out. I've been in Kerala last year and it is a truly amazing place, so green and tropical, and people speak this beautiful masculine language full of closed syllables and rapping consonants. I was fascinated by the sound of the language. All the words like Thiruvananthapuram, and the food is the best in India. But what I saw were a lot of energetic, smiling people, incredibly welcoming and very alive. Of course, I am well aware of the misery behind the scene, the suicide rate is the highest in India, dalits are abused probably as bad as in other states, caste system pervades and poisons all the social and political groups, which is pretty much everywhere in India, but still I haven't felt this oppressive, gloomy, doomed atmosphere from the book. But maybe it's cause I was just a happy traveler skimming the surface of Keralan life without going deep into it, maybe. But I am sure, all these issues can't be brought to light in many ways. I like the way Adiga does it in "White Tiger" and "Between the Assassinations", I liked Rushdie's "Midnight Children", although he too suffers from the overuse of poetics without clear message in mind (just think of all the pretentious baiting symbolism like "Knees and Nose" leading nowhere in the plot), and I like to listen to Arundhati Roy, when she talks about political and social issues in India. She is one of the very few in India who openly talks about very serious issues, which are relevant outside of India as well. But even in her speeches she abuses poetic license brazenly twisting the facts, omitting some counter arguments and in general being careless with argumentative side of her messages. But returning to the book. Take, for example, the following passage from page 52:

    "Estha and Rahel had no doubt that the house Chacko meant was the house on the other side of the river, in the middle of the abandoned rubber estate where they had never been. Kari Saipu's house. The Black
    Sahib. The Englishman who had "gone native." Who spoke Malayalam and wore mundus. Ayemenem's own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Heart of Darkness. He had shot himself through the head ten years ago when his young lover's parents had taken the boy away from him and sent him to school. After the suicide, the property had become the subject of extensive litigation between Kari Saipu's cook and his secretary. The house had lain empty for years. Very few people had seen it. But the twins could picture it.
    The History House".


    So, here we have a comparison of an empty house belonging to the tragically deceased English man who had "gone native" (moved to Kerala, learned the language, married the local girl, wore local clothes) with Kurtz from "The heart of Darkness". While it sounds exciting at first, on a second thought this simile makes no sense. This is a sort of "haunted mansion" house for the young twins and if the narrative is told from their point of view the whole simile loses any point. First of all the twins could not possibly be aware of the book. They were seven years old (if I am not mistaken) and I don't think they or their parents would read them Conrad. Then, if we forget about children's perspective the simile still doesn't make sense, since the man in question has nothing to do with Kurtz, except for the superficial fact of him "going native". There is nothing evil about that English gentleman. I don't know, maybe I'm missing a point, but I just can't see the reason for the allusion to Heart of Darkness here, except to impress a reader and create a menacing atmosphere. And the text has these kind of unanswered questions basically on every page. So I decide to rest my case here.
    Last edited by altai; 23-Apr-2012 at 18:54.

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy - The God of Small Things

    Quote Originally Posted by altai View Post
    there is the whole historical aspect, a microcosm of Keralan society after WWII .
    Well, more appropriately, after the independence in 1947. This place wasnt all tat affected with the WWII, apart from the participation of few soldiers under the British Army.

    Quote Originally Posted by altai View Post
    I've been in Kerala last year and it is a truly amazing place, so green and tropical, and people speak this beautiful masculine language full of closed syllables and rapping consonants. I was fascinated by the sound of the language. All the words like Thiruvananthapuram, and the food is the best in India. But what I saw were a lot of energetic, smiling people, incredibly welcoming and very alive.
    Thanks , we know our business, right ? Next time, when you are in these part of the world do let me know.
    Jayan



  10. #10

    Default Re: Arundathi Roy: The God of Small Things

    I've read this book. But, Arundathi Roy is over-rated, so is this book being.

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    Default Re: Arundathi Roy: The God of Small Things

    Quote Originally Posted by Nestless_Dreambird View Post
    I've read this book. But, Arundathi Roy is over-rated, so is this book being.
    That's what I thought when the book first came out and was unanimously praised to the skies and then went on to win the Booker. On purpose I didn't want to read it, until years later (in fact only two years ago or so) a friend gave it to me as a gift. When I did read it I was blown away. The novel stayed in my mind for weeks and I just couldn't read anything else. There's no overrating Miss Roy; no way; she's fabulous and I dream of her coming back to fiction soon.

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