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July 16, 2016

As a writer and a reader, I highly recommend The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

I re-read this book trying to further immerse myself in a particular style, tone, rhythm. I had forgotten most of it, so it was Christmas all over again! Roy won the 1997 Booker Prize with this, and has not written another novel as far as I know. I wish she would.

It is not a BIG book, but it has an epic quality. I suppose this is one way to describe what I am seeking in my own writing at the moment. As I read, part of me was split off, wondering about technicalities, or if I was carried away by the writing, I would spend spare time considering what I had written.

The God of Small Things is epic without being pompous or ponderous; it is poetic without obscurity; it is lush, sensual but light in the reading.

How does she do this?

Repetition is a dominant technique. I continually felt as though I were circling like an eagle in a thermal, turning again and again past the same events below but, as changing altitude varies perspectives, so the events altered: my view and understanding shifted constantly.

How did she accomplish this effect? Partly lies in the repetition of phrases such as:

It really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how.                                                                                                        And how much.

These sentences grow in depth and import as they repeat through the novel. Their effect moves from curiosity to bleak understanding of their implicit tragedy.

Then there are memories. Mentioned out of context at first, they float, disconnected and enigmatic, obviously of importance but impenetrable as a slab of polished black marble. As the memories recur, like the sequences above, they grow in significance.

Roy also has a habit of capitalizing important words. As so many of the early memories are from Rahel’s childhood, these assume looming, Adult proportions which persist into adulthood:

Sentences are chopped up at need, emphasizing words, intensifying meanings, or threaded long with phrases and insertions, building.

Then there is the just plain exquisite use of words to evoke. Take, as an example, this series of quotations from Rahel’s childhood visit to Dr Verghese Verghese with a bead stuck up her nose:

From behind the doctor’s curtain, sinister voices murmured, interrupted by howls from savaged children. … The slow ceiling fan sliced the thick, frightened air into an unending spiral that spun slowly to the floor like the peeled skin of an endless potato. … [outside] The noisy, carefree world of Those with Nothing Up Their Noses. … Lenin [small friend in the waiting room also with a Foreign Object Lodged Up the Nose] dressed like a taxi – yellow shirt, black, stretchlon shorts – regained his mother’s nylon lap (and his packet of chiclets). He sat on sari flowers and from that position of unassailable strength surveyed the scene impassively. … The chiclets were his to hold before the doctor saw him, and to consume after. All was well with the world. Perhaps he was a little too young to know that Atmosphere in Waiting Room, plus Screams from Behind Curtain, ought logically to add up to Healthy Fear of Dr V.V. …

I want to keep copying, for the wicked delight of her prose continues. In my 1998 Flamingo edition, I’m on page 132.

Tragic and hilarious, but not in equal measures.