It’s a Booker winner. And you can kind of tell. It has that well-crafted, stylistically-interesting, intelligent – but with a narrative – feeling that one reads these kind of books expecting.
The God of Small Things is about the disintegration of a once-respected family in Kerala, during the third quarter of the twentieth century. Socially segregated due to their wealth, power, education and religion, their position/feeling of superiority slowly wilts and dies as part of the tragic consequence of multiple members of the family refusing to live, and crucially love, within strict, socially-prescribed, caste-based rules. “The Love Laws”*
There is unfairness, and grief, and tragedy, and abuse, and horror, and violence, and oppression, and manipulation, and it’s sad, sad, so, so, sad. I bawled like a punched child at numerous points, and if I levelled any criticism at all at the text it would be for its unremitting pessimism. No one is happy. Moments of happiness within the text are presented in such a way that they emphasise forthcoming or recent horrors – the liquid, non-chronological structure means that the reader knows the what (if not the how or why) sufficiently enough to render any instance of joy as a qualified – and cruel – anomaly.
But that’s being picky. I enjoyed it. I was thoroughly wrapped up in the lives and the world and the society being written about. I cried. I like to cry. I like to feel. I like to be moved. And, if I’ve read it correctly, the novel is attempting to criticise harsh, social, old-world rules and mentalities, and thus displaying the unpleasantness that results is justified.
It’s elegiac prose, often lyrical, poetic: repeating strains, phrases, reflections, meander throughout. The notion of a society strictly governed by propriety is easy to understand, as too are the transcending (and thus problematic) rebellious actions.
People are mean, people are nasty, people are cruel. And the moments of happiness, the moments of love, are all lost. These are the big things. But it is the small things that have divine assistance. Love dies. Over and over again.
*A term which I could not take seriously due to its inclusion in a skit I once wrote for an Edinburgh Fringe show. A skit that was removed from the final piece because it was, according the rest of the company, “obtuse, potentially offensive and not funny enough”. Hey, listeners!