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July 8, 2015

Breaking the Love Laws (@AlisonDeLuca)

by Alison DeLuca

The God of Small Things
In The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy writes about incest, abuse, attraction between nun and priest, a husband pimping out his wife. The novel horrified me as I read it, but at the same time Roy’s glorious prose illuminated the terrors within a middle-class Indian family. Once I began to read, I felt I was sucked into a maze lined with words (some unknown in the Malayalam language) leading me, inexorably, to a heart of darkness. The final one-word sentence broke my heart with pity, just like the devastating last scene of NoĆ©’s film Irreversible. What comes before and after changes everything.

And, like Irreversible, Roy plays with time in The God of Small Things. As the title suggests, tiny images (the spider in the final chapter) take on great significance. One example is a toy watch, its hands always pointed at ten to two. Roy owns time in the novel, so much so that whenever I read the time was ten to two I shuddered, knowing I was on the brink of another beautifully harrowing scene.

The characters are some of the most creative, layered people I’ve ever seen in a book. Baby Kochamma is dreadful (and how wonderful is it to have an antagonist called ‘Baby?’) However, there’s a reason for her single-minded, Javertian pursuit of Velutha, the Untouchable lover of Ammu. Like Renard, my favorite Bond villain, Baby has a bullet burrowing through her brain: her failed love affair with a Catholic priest.

Roy delves so deeply into each mind within the book it’s difficult to tell who is the main character. Much of the plot is told from the point of view of Rahel and Estha (also known as Silent,) Ammu’s twins. What happens to Estha at the movies is truly shocking, and it only gets worse. Rahel or ‘Emptiness,’ doesn’t fare much better. Her only meaningful relationship is with her twin brother.

So why read such a painful book? Besides the layered structure, the intricate timing, and nuanced characters, the writing is lovely enough to reach poetic levels. Physical desire has been described so many times it’s nearly impossible to achieve originality whilst describing it, and yet Roy manages it. “The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke.” And this: “He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair.”

The book is political as well, although even politics is depicted with delicate brushstrokes. “There is a war that makes us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves,” Roy writes. “Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace Worse Things kept happening.”

Sometimes a writer’s voice is so overblown the tone goes too far. In the hands of a lesser writer these similes and beautiful grotesques could have reached ridiculous levels to the point where the reader says, tossing the book aside, “Another metaphor! I’m done.” Roy’s language is organically culled. The experience of living the book (for I did not merely read it) is like floating down a river, one filled with sewage and drowned bodies as well as deadly microbes. However, the view on the shores as we flash past is so incredible we can’t get out. We simply have to keep going.

Writing this review made me wonder if I’ll be able to read The God of Small Things again. The horror of the book will stick with me for the rest of my life. It’s number one on my list of “Wonderful Books I’ll Never Read Again” along with A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Road, and A Lost Lady. But I miss Roy’s words, the deceptively simple sentences, and passages like these:

“But what was there to say?
Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teethmarks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.
Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.” 

Buy The God of Small Things at Amazon

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