A garden doesn’t grow unattended. It needs love, care, dedication, tenderness, and then in the winter, to be cut back, pushed to the edge of living by a zealous shears in the hands of the ardent gardener. In much the same way a story does not just grow on its own, it also needs the attention and pruning, the care and the ruthless razing. To prune only the right leaves and passages while allowing others to thrive takes skills. Roy proves to us that she is as adept an author as the pivotal character Baby Kochamma is a gardener in this stunning novel The God of Small Things.
The plot centres around Rahel, a prodigal daughter, returning home to the Indian town of Kerala where she finds her old house in a state of dishevelment. Slowly, as Rahel spreads herself throughout the overgrown garden and into the house, we peer into the past that has lead the house to become so dilapidated. We see flickers into a funeral of a drowned cousin, Sophie Mol. The plot unfolds from here, how Sophie Mol came to be the drowned cousin, how the once proud gardener Baby Aunt Kochamma came to be a broken couch potato wasting away watching Hulk Hogan glisten in leather and spandex on TV, and how Estha (Rahel’s non-identical, two-egg, twin brother) came to be mute.
These flashes, both backward and forward in time, slowly plant the seeds of the story in our minds which Roy leaves for us to germinate on their own as we hunt for meaning in the beautiful prose of the novel. We are never quite sure right up until the very end what has gone on in the Ayemenem house and the town in which it lies, as we meet and come to love many of the inhabitants of the town. The trunk of the mystery of poor Sophie Mol’s death is intertwined with tendrils of despairing Ammu, mother of the twins and recent divorcee, and the anger of Uncle Chako, Sophie Mol’s “just real father”.
I thoroughly enjoyed just how well Roy executed the novel. Usually, flashes around in time are confusing and disjointed, done with little tact to hide flaws an author’s story has. But with The God of Small Things I really felt these changes in time were well placed and never overused, or used in place of furthering the plot merely to cause suspense to build. Combining this technique with an astounding command of both vocabulary and metaphor, Roy ensnared me right from the start. In the first two paragraphs alone we are introduced to the imagery of India in the heat of summer and the verdant bloom of monsoon, which persist throughout the novel, the ripe mangoes feasted on by crows are echoed by the ghost fruit left in Estha’s hand by the OrangedrinkLemondrink Man.
To say, I’m not able to continue writing about just how amazing the metaphors were is the greatest understatement in this whole post. Roy must have tended the sentences of this novel so fiercely and pruned away anything unnecessary to be left with such excellence. But enough of the garden talk from me. I will add at this junction though that some scenes although incredibly beautiful, did have me retching and wondering at how I was revolted and amazed at once.
This book is not new to most readers, it has graced the shelves of many since winning the Booker in 1997, and has become a name one might often see on lists of books people just love. So, maybe there is little new I have added to this discussion, however, like a creeping moss that flourishes in the monsoons, on time or late, it covered my heart from start to finish.
TL;DR This book is simply stunning and challenging. Definitely a thought-provoking yet exciting read.