The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – Book Review

Posted in: Novels
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy book review summary critical observation

The debut novel by a controversial novelist, Arundhati Roy, who is known for many things other than two novels by her, The God of Small Things, has found itself a place among the literary discourse and class discussions in India among intellectuals of a certain ideology. My first impression of the novel was a little lower than a mixed expression. I heard many things about the literary merits and thematic prowess of The God of Small Things. However, the introduction was rather different and the first thing to burst the bubbles of perception was the language Arundhati Roy has deployed in her novel to carry out the messages. Adiga does sound better in any of his works compared to Roy’s linguistic abilities in both of her novels. Well, in this article, I will put to trial Roy’s supposed masterpiece The God of Small Things and reveal my opinions in different sections. I am sure many may disagree or agree. However, these are my opinions to make sure anyone interested in reading this novel gets a clear picture of what to expect, in a suggestive way rather than a certain yes or no. Also, those who have already read the novel can let me know how much they agree or disagree with these conclusions. Let’s move into it!

Though Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, burst onto the literary scene with considerable acclaim and garnered a substantial following, a relook or a stern analysis may reveal many otherwise facts about the novel. Regrettably, while it is undeniably true that the novel possesses moments of literary brilliance – contrary to the fact many critics claim (as a bundle of flowers from the ancient tree blessed by the Muse of literary prowess herself) – its numerous flaws, both in terms of writing style and plot coupled with a substandard diction that mars the flow of the storyline with unnecessary colloquial usage, leave an indelible mark of disappointment.

The Enchanting Web of Language – a Myth:
One can convincingly deny Roy’s command over the language. Reading the book The God of Small Things page by page was an arduous task for me. Her prose possesses an instant ant-reader ‘smell’ and unfortunately, she only had her pages to keep it. The lethargic movement of prose denies any kind of connection between readers and the storyline of the novel. Readers know two characters at the beginning of the novel and some information about the weather, type of the month, roads, people, funerals, free bus rides, and other riddles keep annoying them all the while. On rare occasions, the random pattern of sentences may strike the readers with a note of surprise and pleasure. That cannot be denied. The experiment with prose style often obscures clarity and serves as a veil to conceal the novel’s inherent shallowness. Roy’s use of those extravagant metaphors and intricate wordplay often bewilders readers and pushes them into the enigmatic search for sense (and in the background, the story moves from this to that track, jumps from this to that rooftop, and hides in this or that rabbit hole). Certainly gratuitous, the prose narrative part of the novel casts a shadow on everything else in it already devoid of any light of literary merit. Roy revels in her own verbosity without due consideration for the reader’s comprehension. Many authors with a sense of elitist literary merits and their own measures to measure the same, often indulge in such practices. The excessive ornamentation sacrifices substance at the altar of superficiality, leaving readers grasping for meaning amidst a sea of flowery language.

A Lackluster Narrative:
The God of Small Things weaves a convoluted tale set in Kerala, India, spanning several decades. Though the premise, as shared here, might look more than enticing, deep and artistic genius, it is not the case in reality. With the promise of a complex exploration of love, caste, and social dimensions, the novel fails to deliver a compelling narrative. The tale is not straight. It is delivered in fragments that are too distinct to stitch together. As expected, a heroic attempt to reflect the characters’ shattered, broken and nuanced lives rather contributes to the confusion and disarray of the reader. Arundhati Roy, it becomes apparent, keeps oscillating between past and present, coupled with an excessive number of subplots that extend the circumference of the perplexing demeanour of the narrative, fails miserably to deliver some meaningful tale that might bind the readers with the development of the novel. A lack of a central idea or a proposition of any sort sucks out any opportunity for prolonged readership from average, moderate and regular readers of straightforward fiction (who, fortunately, form the largest pie in the circle of readers). It is strange enough to realise that a tale about India is not able to attract most of India but those sitting in the panels of literary judgements found ‘never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one’.

Superficial Characterization:
Those who have read Roy beyond the artificially adorned pages of her two novels should know what kind of an author she is. Her style is just expressing her opinions and passing judgements at any cost. In The God of Small Things, this cost is paid by the characters in the novel. They suffer from an acute lack of depth, rendering them little more than vehicles for Roy’s thematic explorations. One striking miss by the novelist is her quickly shifting focus from this to that character’s point of view, assassinating any opportunity for any reader to engage with any character in any possible way. In turn, it pushes readers away from the possibility of forming any emotional or intellectual attachment with the characters in the novel. Estha and Rahel, for all the qualities, they might have achieved, are mere vessels for tragedy and abuse, devoid of genuine agency or development. And thus, Roy’s casual attempt to portray complex emotions and human relationships crashlands, hitting its head first, and leaving the reader emotionally detached and longing for authentic connections. The superficiality of the characters cannot carry out the burdens of plot development or literary compassion.

Socio-Political Themes Lost in Translation:
One has to give it to the author’s manifold of attempts in a single novel! The God of Small Things touches upon significant social and political issues, such as the rigid caste system and the stifling societal norms of Kerala. Needless to say, with all those lacking elements discussed above, Roy’s treatment of these themes lacks the necessary depth and nuance to elicit a meaningful impact. After reading a few chapters, readers may understand that her exploration of caste struggles, for instance, is mired in clichés and superficial observations. Merely indulging in judgements without adequate instances to prove one’s point may be the reason for failing to offer fresh insights or challenging established perceptions of society. The novel teeters on the edge of social commentary, failing in its responsibility to provoke thoughtful introspection, but the novelist is more than eager to wedge her opinions, perhaps rigged by her biases, in the narrative. This contradictory imbalance further exposes the novel on different fronts.

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is a novel that merely teases and tantalizes, trying to seduce readers with its poetic language and evocative setting. Unfortunately, these elements prove to be mere smokescreens, concealing a harrowingly shallow narrative and lacklustre characterization completely failing to deliver any justice to the promises that the cover carvings make to the readers. It rides on the wave of being the winner of the prestigious Booker Prize! I also deny to acknowledge the work’s artistic achievements because it could not ring the right chords for me and many readers in the line behind. With its numerous shortcomings, in the grand tapestry of literary accomplishments (which remains always strange to me), this novel, regrettably, fails to weave a compelling and coherent story worthy of its initial praise.


Review by Ashish for ReadBycritics

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – Book Review
  • ReadByCritics Rating


An unsincere attempt that betrays the appreciation amassed by the novel after winning the Booker Prize in 1997! A largely meaningless story attempts its best to camouflage the verbose and superficial narrative… but fails on many levels. No, I did not pick up a collection of prose poems. It was supposed to be a novel with a face, body, and tail. It wasn’t!

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