As regular readers will know, I have had some ups and downs in the book picking sphere. Although I have advised you on how to pick a good book, you may also have read my post on the first ever pick of the UBC. I am still infamous – the story of “The Worst Pick Ever” is trotted out for new members after a few glasses of vino in regular fashion (although I am very positive this title should have been passed on long ago). I like to think of it as the original UBC folk story. For my second pick, I chose Half Blood Blues which was much better received.
So when October rolled around it was my turn again. I felt the pressure – since my last pick landed in the summer, it was not widely read but enjoyed by those who did attend the meeting. Could I repeat? I think it is also important to recognize here that the criteria for a successful pick varies between members. For me, I enjoy picking books that inspire good conversation – and to me that means:
- Most members have read it,
- There are a wide range of opinions (yes, even negative!) to debate, and
- Most UBC-ers found something that they liked about it, no matter how small.
I always enjoy supporting female authors, and tend towards books I know are available in paperback and are under 350 pages. Add to that the fact that Roy won the Man Booker in 1997 for this, her debut novel, and that it’s set in India and I was sold.
I don’t pre-read novels, so as soon as I began I was trying to pick out things that people would like or find more challenging. For me, the writing is pure poetry and I loved Roy’s way of describing people and experiences. This unique style did make it a bit more difficult to remember who was who for the first few chapters, however – especially if you are not familiar with the Indian terms that are often used as part of a proper name (Mol meaning little girl, or Kochamma, an honorific for women). Others found it overly descriptive and not concise enough for their tastes, especially when comparing it with Cat’s September pick.
Roy uses a non-sequential plot, which I also enjoy, although it did begin fairly slowly. Once you hit the explanation of Sophie Mol’s death (we begin the novel at her funeral), though, it really picks up. Main themes in the novel include the complex history of Indian politics and class relations, which deeply affect the characters’ lives in ways that we could only attempt to mentally work through. If I had been able to learn more about these topics I think I would have enjoyed the book better – there were several short passages as well as a longer dream sequence that made reference to historic, political, and religious points that I did not understand. Personally, I had no idea that Communism was present in India and learning a bit about how that part of history played out was fascinating (I’m a bit of a historical fiction geek). Fortunately for us, the talented Yael was able to shed some light on certain aspects during the discussion. We also touch on forbidden love, loyalties (or lack of), and the caste system. The themes are heavy, but rich and fully explored.
Main characters include Rahel and Estha (twins), their mother Ammu, great aunt Baby Kochamma, and an Untouchable employee of the family’s pickle factory, Velutha. Each struggle with their own challenges, and although we experience the story (mostly) through Rahel’s eyes I felt the reader had the opportunity to know many of the characters intimately, with the exception of Velutha who remained a mystery to me (intentionally, I believe). Roy captures the world of a child in an extremely artful way – I especially enjoyed the capitalization of words that were important to Rahel and the short sing-song-y phrases that repeated. A few passages as told through the eyes of a child resonated very deeply in a way that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Finally, although unfortunate for Estha, I enjoyed having The Sound of Music referenced since the movie is a personal favourite. Coincidentally, a theater production of this is playing in Ottawa so I jumped at the chance to organize an outing for our UBC musical enthusiasts which I’m sure you’ll be able to read more about in the upcoming weeks.
In summary, I would definitely recommend The God of Small Things. To really enjoy the novel, take your time in the beginning to really get the characters straight and don’t be afraid to Google topics that aren’t familiar throughout. I hope you pick up a copy – if you do (or already have), let us know what you think in the comments or tweet @unputdownableBC.