Thursday, 7 March 2019

Power and powerlessness

The God of Small Things The God of Small Things opens with the return of Rahel to her childhood home in Ayemenem, in the south-west of India and to her twin brother Estha. Why did she leave? "It all began when Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem."

Arundhati Roy has said that the theme of much of what she writes is "the relationship between power and powerlessness and the endless, circular conflict they're engaged in." In The God of Small Things, there are characters who attempt to escape their 'powerlessness', and those who scheme to maintain, at all costs, their superior position. Within the family, divorced Ammu and her twins must be informed "of their place in the scheme of things." Baby Kochamma resented her niece Amma, "because she saw her quarrelling with a fate that she, Baby Kochamma herself, felt she had graciously accepted."

The incessant pettiness and bitterness throughout the tale makes for quite a depressing read, and that's before considering the 'laws' of interraction that must be upheld not only when dealing with different classes, religions, ideologies, gender or nationalities, but also between members within these societal constructs. In the book, prejudice and contempt are manifestations of "unacknowledged fear - civilization's fear of nature, men's fear of women, power's fear of powerlessness," and eventually, in one of the most shocking scenes, "man's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify."

The narrative jumps between the present and the past and occasionally the writing style is exhausting and creates a barrier to moving the story forwards. However, there are vivid images that jump from the text, for instance the "dissolute bluebottles" that "hum vacuously" in the hot May weather, and Baby Kochamma's feet that are "puffy with oedema, like little foot-shaped air cushions."

By the end of the book we realise that, "to say that it all began when Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem is only one way of looking at it. [-] 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.

Other stuff

John Crace digested classic in The Guardian

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