The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).
This is a story of many different parts and pieces, intertwining through time, and coming together as one all-embracing moral lesson. Most of all, though, it focuses on how the small things in life contribute to this bigger picture.
Roy has written this novel in non-sequential narrative; flashbacks, sidetracks, and memories are splayed all over the pages as though the story is being recounted by an old relative who will digress as soon as one thought triggers another in their mind. This made the story quaint, interesting, and fresh. It also effectively meant that the ending of the story is told merely halfway through. The beauty of Roy's storytelling, however, is that entire story wasn't told; we were given the bare facts, but not the small things that mattered most to the story.
The story is written mostly from the point of view of the young twins, and Roy does this in a beautiful way. She capitalises words, runs words together (my favourite being Rahel's description of the Bar Nowl), and repeats sentences throughout the novel to emphasise a point. It was a very, very unique style.
I was particularly interested to read of the different social structures in India at this time. The family we met with were of a higher class, and so tried their best to speak English and sent their son to study at Oxford. Class segregation was an apparent theme of the novel, and it was great to meet the characters who rigorously upheld their superiority to others, whilst they lived alongside those with a more rebellious, unconventional nature, who don't believe this way of doing things is correct. The caste system dictates the differences in the way each class is to be treated, and shocked me greatly. Although this was originally devised to 'organise society', the living conditions of the lowest class are subhuman.
The entire novel centres around societal norms, and in particular the Love Laws - laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much. We are introduced to the love laws at the beginning of the novel, and they seem so incredibly ridiculous at this stage. Who should say what the love laws are? Can't we love whoever we like? For as long as we like? As much as we like? But the harrowing thing is that by the end of the novel, we realise: no, we can't. The Love Laws define everything.
I would entirely recommend this novel, particularly to those who are interested in reading Indian literature. It is completely melancholy without being depressing, rich, beautiful, and even olfactory. I very much doubt I would read this again, but I know in my heart it's one I will never forget.