After plodding through the last few books, “The God of Small Things” was a refreshing change. It drew me in, into the lives of Estha and Rahel, into Kerala, Ayemenem, onto love and its fragile boundaries, easily crushed by blind traditions, by selfish, hypocritical motives.
What Arundhati Roy achieves in her debut novel, her only work to date, is quite remarkable. She has the Booker (1997) to show for that, though an award is not always well deserved, as I recently discovered. In this case though, it is. One hundred percent. May be one hundred fifty. The lyrical quality of the prose, the evocative locales, passionate, intriguing moments reaped to the fullest, all belie the fact that this was only a first work. What a first! One that masters would be proud of and imitators love to worship.
The story, strongly influenced by the writer’s own life, is set in a Kerala village, Ayemenem, where the twins Estha and Rahel, return after twenty three years. Reliving a past that had separated them and split a family terminally apart. A past where their mother, Ammu, had loved an untouchable. An affair they paid dearly for. Estha and Rahel return to the present, to a “hideous grief”, to be haunted by death. Like their mother, they break “the Love Laws. That laid down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”
Why a writer of such talent would forsake writing after her first work is baffling. Maybe political activism is more alluring. Maybe that was all she had to say. Maybe she is destined to be another Harper Lee. Whatever the reason, I hope she is able to repeat her tour de force. At least once, for the sake of literature.