The God of Small Things was an unprecedented international success for a first-time author. It won a publishing advance reputed to be near one million dollars, and it won Britain’s most prestigious writing award, the Booker Prize, in 1997. Reviews in the United States were very positive, often including high praise such as that of Ritu Menon in her review for Women’s Review of Books: “The God of Small Things is a seduction from start to finish.” Although the novel was generally well reviewed in Britain, there was some controversy about its success, and a minority of critics, including the previous Booker Prize Committee Chairperson Carmen Callil, said on television that it did not deserve the prize. The novel has also caused some controversy in India where it was first published. Communists, including E. M. S. Namboodiripad, took exception to Roy’s portrayal of communist characters, and the lawyer Sabu Thomas filed a public interest petition claiming that the novel was obscene.
Critics generally group the novel into the genre of post-colonial Indian literature that takes Indian politics and history as its subject. For example, the anonymous reviewer in the March 15, 1997, edition of Kirkus Reviews characterizes Roy’s style as “reminiscent of Salman Rushdie’s early work.” Like the novels of the influential Indian-British author Salman Rushdie The God of Small Things is written in English, for a Western readership as much as an Indian readership, and it takes on a variety of historical and political themes.