Sunday, 5 June 2011

The God of Small things - a (forgotten) modern classic

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Flamingo: 1997). The story of an Indian family that has grown up and apart, but comes together again to relive its past. As the pages fly by, we learn more of the landmarks and the secrets that have moulded the family, and begin to understand the whole truth of the problems they face today.
This book’s been sat on our bookshelf, quietly screaming at me for a while.
Not in a “my books speak to me” sort of a way (I’m not mental). More in an “I wish more people knew about this” sort of a way. Which is strange, because this is a Booker Prize winner. In ’97 when it won the big gong, I’m sure it was talked about a lot, and anyone with any interest in books had heard about it. I bet it graced the London commuter trains with regularity.
But ’97 is a while ago, and Booker Prize or no Booker Prize, the world moves on quickly to the next thing. I barely hear anyone talk about this book any more. But for me, this is not a book to be forgotten. For me, this book is a modern classic.
It’s pretty vague, the way books become classics. Some land on the radar and never leave. Others make a big splash and are then forgotten for a while until they slowly take on a more eternal reputation. Some stay in the undergrowth until they suddenly become appreciated years later.
However it happens, I think it should happen to this book. For me, it’s one of the few books written in the last 15 years that I think deserves to still be read in another 50, another 100, forever.
I could go on about why I think this. Really, I could go on and on. Ask me about it when you see me next and (if I’ve had a couple) I probably will. You’ll have a job shutting me up about this one when I get started.
But this is a blog, so let’s try to keep it to 600 words or less, eh?
Most importantly, The God of Small Things balances huge themes and stages with a highly personal and intimate feel. The questions it asks are vast, but the way it answers them are so personal and so charged that the connection it builds with us (you and me) is absolutely concrete. I’m not Indian. I have absolutely no experience of the situations and the people this book creates. But the way it’s written makes me sympathise with them and live the story in a manner that made me ache more than a few times.
But this book has more than one pace. Yes, it brings a tear to the eye when it wants to. But it’s also funny. It’s got wit. Even a little bit of action. It has tension, big characters, slow burning story arcs and quick win anecdotes. Its characters are complex, flawed, brilliant and human. It’s beautiful and ugly, uncomfortable and refreshing.
Yeah, I like this one quite a lot.
Books can be pretty powerful. They have the capacity to knock your socks off. Finding one that actually does is a nice reminder of why we read in the first place.
Downsides? Well, if I was to pick nits, I could. But they’d be pretty small ones. And I don’t want to give you any reason not to go out and buy this. So I won’t.
Well, nine and a half if I allowed myself to give halves. The few nits (that were left unpicked) keeping it short of a Wodehouse score.
563 words in the end. I kept it brief for you. You’re welcome.

No comments: