Arundhati Roy Roy, Arundhati

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things

Born in 1960, Roy is an Indian novelist.

In The God of Small Things (1997) Roy creates a microcosm that encompasses wife battering, infidelity, molestation, emotional insecurity, pride, and death within one family in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Through this microcosm, Roy explores the often chaotic social and political history of India. Written in a style verging on magical realism, the novel features nonlinear chronology and fragmented flashbacks so that the reader must unravel the story from its conclusion to its source. Roy herself grew up in Kerala, where she witnessed the disarray of Indian politics and the quiet violence of the Indian upper classes against the Untouchables—the lowest stratum in the strict Indian caste system. She studied to be an architect before writing screenplays for several successful Indian films and now resides in New Delhi. Her story of the Kochamma family addresses the sweeping problems and complexities of twentieth-century India as the country struggled for independence from British colonialism. Lingering Anglophilia among Indians and its resultant shame and self-loathing inform the better part of the novel, in which Indians are caught between upholding narrow English standards of beauty and conduct, and confronting their own history of class prejudice and misogyny. Consequently, it is the children of the story—the fraternal twins Estha and Rahel—who are left irreparably scarred by their tumultuous family and society. Critical response to The God of Small Things has been largely positive. Critics have praised Roy's lush and sensuous prose and her handling of such a wide range of personal and social issues, and have noted similarities in her writing to that of Salman Rushdie, William Faulkner, and James Joyce. Other critics have argued that such comparisons are premature and that, while the novel shows tremendous promise, it is too self-consciously literary to be considered a masterpiece. Nonetheless, Roy is lauded for undertaking to examine the turbulence of India on such a large scale. She won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for The God of Small Things in 1997.

Publishers Weekly (review date 3 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The God of Small Things, in Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1997, p. 62.

[In the following review, the critic praises Roy's subtle handling of complex issues and her masterful storytelling.]

With sensuous prose, a dreamlike style infused with breath-takingly beautiful images and keen insight into human nature, Roy's debut novel [The God of Small Things] charts fresh territory in the genre of magical, prismatic literature. Set in Kerala, India, during the late 1960s when Communism rattled the age-old caste system, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel's protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspenseful narrative, Roy reveals the family tensions that led to the twins' behavior on the fateful night that Sophie drowned. Beneath the drama of a family tragedy lies a background of local politics, social taboos and the tide of history—all of which come together in a slip of fate, after which a family is irreparably shattered. Roy captures the children's candid observations but clouded understanding of adults' complex emotional lives. Rahel notices that "at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside." Plangent with a sad wisdom, the children's view is never oversimplified, and the adult characters reveal their frailties—and in one case, a repulsively evil power—in subtle and complex ways. While Roy's powers of description are formidable, she sometimes succumbs to overwriting, forcing every minute detail to symbolize something bigger, and the pace of the story slows. But these lapses are few, and her powers coalesce magnificently in the book's second half. Roy's clarity of vision is remarkable, her voice original, her story beautifully constructed and masterfully...

(The entire section is 9,078 words.)