Review: The God of Small Things

The God of Small ThingsThe God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The God of Small Things / 978-1-588-36783-9

I feel simply awful only rating this wonderfully exquisite book 3 stars, but I have to confess that I just felt like I couldn't quite get into the narrative. The novel is wonderfully well-written, with careful turns of phrase that stick with you until the end, and with lavish descriptions that really convey the place and attitudes of the setting. The theme of injustice towards the most vulnerable members of society is sharp and visceral, as well as the theme of social displacement and of having your culture slowly leached from you.

The writing is so beautiful that it's impossible to not compare "The God of Small Things" to other great novels dealing with oppression and cultural displacement; in many ways this novel reminds me of some of the greatest works by Atwood, Marquez, and Rushdie - especially as Roy lays a gentle fabric of magical realism over her vividly described narrative.

And yet, I confess, I never could really sink myself into "The God of Small Things" despite the obvious beauty and skill within the writing. After much reflection, I finally decided that my detachment came from the fact that most of the plot details that the book carefully doles out through flashback form are revealed in advance extremely early on - in the first few chapters, in fact. When novels start with a tragic future and then split of into a flashback to the past (bringing us up to the tragic present), it's usually customary to slowly reveal exactly *what* caused the future to go so horribly wrong, such that by the time we've caught up to the present, we've witnessed the whole story "as it happened", and experienced all the heartbreak along the way.

Here, however, we're treated to something of a "plot summary" early on and things that could have been major shockers in the late chapters are instead told to us outright in the beginning. In retrospect, this made me somehow less emotionally attached to the story; I felt less as though I was part of the narrative, unraveling a mystery as I went along ("How did things go so wrong?") and more like I was a detached observer, simply serving time until the tragic end ("When does the molestation mentioned in Chapter 1 actually happen?").

I think, in some respects, I was simply the wrong audience for this book. I certainly think that for other audiences, this could easily be a book so meaningful that it would touch their lives forever, but for me, personally, not coming from this culture and unable to really sustain suspense for events that I'd already been told in the first few chapters would happen, I couldn't really connect with this novel, though I could appreciate that it was beautifully written.

~ Ana Mardoll

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