The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a kaleidoscope of events and feelings fused with inventive imagery. This story revolves around two dizygotic twins, Rahel and Estha and their family – their mother Ammu, uncle Chacko, grand aunt Baby Kochamma and their maternal grandparents Mammachi and Pappachi. Ammu, a divorced single mother returns to her parents’ home in Ayemenem with her twins after her divorce. Here, they are subjected to the “Love Laws” that will mar them forever. Set in Kerala in the 1960s, the book is a holistic representation of a world lived by an affluent Ayemenem family where post-colonialism, communism, caste-system, religious bigotry and misogyny lodge with an air of plaintive wisdom. I understand why now Roy took four years to write this book.
The fate of many of the story’s key characters is revealed to us in the first chapter and the rest of the book weaves in and out non-linearly in analepsis to put together the events and “Small Things” that result in these fates. I enjoyed this process a lot as it was refreshing to delve into the lives of the characters written with orchestral beauty after knowing the outcome instead of the usual sequential big-hammer endings. Roy illustrates the knowing before knowing how in the chapter, “Kochu Thomban,” when alluding to a Kathakali performance (now my favourite quote):
“It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t.”
Roy adopts an omniscient narrative with Rahel’s perspective employed as the key derivative. For this reason, the writing very often looks like a child’s mind – capitalising the first letter of words that hold intrigue to a child, words and sentences read backwards and a narrowed but focused aperture of imagistic views. A bounty of metaphors, similes and allusions, Roy’s book proves that she is a remarkable writer, however she does occasionally glide unrestrained into over-writing and over-epitomising that runs the danger of wearing a reader out. However, this is mostly limited to the first half of the book and the story and the symbols coalesce to form a wholesome, harrowing yet beautiful experience for the reader in the second half. The most powerful device that Roy has very cleverly imbued is the rhetoric of professing to say very little or nothing of the “Big Things” thus rendering it a melancholic indulgence reserved for the proficient reader.
To address the elephant in the room – what is the meaning of “Small Things” and who is the God of these small things? Interestingly, the question of cause and effect, a possibility of the amalgamation of all random or “small” events leading to a big one is the underpinning for this title; little things lead to the Big Event. In the first chapter, we find out that a girl called Sophie Mol has died and subsequently realise how and why; Rahel is told off by her mother for disobeying her and told that she will be loved less, Estha is molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink man – few of those “small things” causing them to run away from home with Sophie Mol. The latter part of the question is directly addressed in the book as well as left open to interpretation so I will refrain from delving into this to not give away too much to interested readers.
I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate and navigate through the bending of literary rules and an excavation of human character in all its frail splendour.
“Even later, on the thirteen nights that followed this one, instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things.”