Notes from my slow, on-going read of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things.”
- So far, the book is showing signs of time-skipping. Events move backwards in the chronology from effect to cause. As with the twins, once separated and now united, then nope, they’re actually not–we’re going back to when they were kids next. Roy used some non-sequential sections to great effect in “The Ultimate Ministry of Happiness,” a novel I’ve labeled as my favorite read in the past year.
- TGST is filled with family characters, and though their names are odd and distinctive, I still get them confused, and this is a big distraction when reading. Much of this is cultural unfamiliarity: to me, the name Estha sounds like it should be a female, and Rahel male; I don’t get the “baby” nametag; I don’t get the “chi” added to Pappa and Mamma. Chacko sounds like a cartoon character. And, to add to the confusion, there are often too many characters jammed into a scene or expository section.
- I sensed (and was enchanted by) the poetic and/or lyrical bent of Roy’s prose on page one. As the pages move on, the quips and images become a little edgier, not so cozy. Sometimes the lines are satiric or bumbling Indian humorous, I suppose. I fear slapstick, but know there is seriousness at the underbelly. Indians have a complex caste system and a Whitman’s Sampler of religious and political persuasions. Certain behaviors are expected. Are readers in store for random dysfunction and microscopic accounts of trifling occurrences? What is the Indian way of writing, the posture, in this book? I have many pages left to learn more. The UMH novel, if I were running a comparative poll, is still way ahead in my estimation as the better novel. Early factors why: readability and sophistication of subject matter and poetic ingredients.
- Almost a third in, and for the first time my attention is held for several pages. There is momentum and conflict. It happens when the family at last gets to the cinema to see (once again) “The Sound of Music.” They set out to do this many days ago, and ever since I had been reading and reading, trudging through some digressive if not inane sections. Roy’s clever weave of movie scenes into the character’s adventures at the theater, however sordid with urination, child molestation, and a hint of twins incest, keeps me actively engaged.
- The family’s meet-up with Chacko’s ex and the bratty daughter at the airport. Class warfare is evident. Kids behaving badly, their evasive instincts correct. Hints of tragedy and irreconcilable facts. The presence of concrete kangaroo-shaped trash receptacles. The Bluer Plymouth and all its tail-finned glory awaits in the parking lot. Every sentence pregnant with meaning, the thematic texture of the book compounding and taking on more weight of meaning, and we’re only at the halfway point. It seems God the Lyrical Prose Writer is looking after Roy’s choice of words.