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The God of Small Things


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In case no one else has read it, I'll share my own first reaction to it in a nutshell (though I'm not quite to the finish line yet). I'm listening to an audiobook recording of this novel, read brilliantly by (I believe) Sarita Choudhury. I chose to go through this because I knew it had won the Booker Prize for 1997 and had seen glowing reviews for it in the past. As I sort through my thoughts on it, I find it to be both brilliant and problematic. Brilliant in its free-form poetic language, taking off in all directions with magnificent flights of fancy. Near-brilliant in its narrative structure, bobbing effortlessly between disparate time frames even as it ratchets tension up and up and up toward the climax. Full of resonant themes related to children and adults, and how they love (or how litte they love) each other. Problematic, however, in the bitter taste you get from the way it paints most of its adult characters as unmitigated fiends. In this universe, the child characters are allowed to have the richness of real life (both lovely and sad), but the adults are almost all sinister to the bone. Surely there is a large degree of truth in painting evil as it is, and there are countless people in the world who are as evil as some of the adults in this novel. The problem I see, though, is that there are virtually no redeeming adult characters (except for the untouchable characters, who are allowed flashes of goodness) in the novel, and this doesn't seem to fully represent the world the way we experience it. Yes, sin is rampant and the wages of sin is death, but is this novel telling the truth when it refuses to show much of anything close to the image of God in any of its characters?

If you haven't read the novel, please share your thoughts on fictional worlds in which evil is emphasized to a degree that seems to almost cancel out the image of God in the characters being portrayed. Can you think of examples of what I'm referring to? This is a tough question, for it's surely true that many stories de-emphasize evil to the opposite extreme, as if it's not the destructive thing that it really is.

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  • 1 month later...

I finally finished this book. Unfortunately, my impression would have been much higher if I hadn't read the final chapter. The novel ends with 2 acts (mild spoiler) which the author presents as almost redemptive, but which represented for me moral failures full of deep tragedy. One of these 2 acts, in particular, was so nauseating that it almost singlehandedly makes me not want to recommend the book. I found the disconnect between the author's presentation of the conclusion and my sense of the moral reality of the world quite disturbing. With some art, such a disconnect can be interesting. In this case, I think it hurt the book's artistic value immensely. I'm sad to say this, especially given that there is so much brilliance in this book. BTW, I misspoke in a previous comment when I said the great audiobook narration was by Sarita Choudhury. It is actually by Donada Peters, and it is remarkable. Does anyone have any thoughts on this novel? Anyone read it or know those who have?

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I finally finished this book. Unfortunately, my impression would have been much higher if I hadn't read the final chapter. The novel ends with 2 acts (mild spoiler) which the author presents as almost redemptive, but which represented for me moral failures full of deep tragedy. One of these 2 acts, in particular, was so nauseating that it almost singlehandedly makes me not want to recommend the book. I found the disconnect between the author's presentation of the conclusion and my sense of the moral reality of the world quite disturbing. With some art, such a disconnect can be interesting. In this case, I think it hurt the book's artistic value immensely. I'm sad to say this, especially given that there is so much brilliance in this book. BTW, I misspoke in a previous comment when I said the great audiobook narration was by Sarita Choudhury. It is actually by Donada Peters, and it is remarkable. Does anyone have any thoughts on this novel? Anyone read it or know those who have?

I'm glad you posted that, Brian. The book was highly acclaimed upon its release, and I bought a copy for my mom. I'm having second thoughts about that in light of your post. ::blushing::

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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It's been a couple years since I assigned this novel for a contemporary lit. course, so I haven't replied because my memories of it are somewhat vague--possibly for the reasons mentioned in Brian's posts. I do recall that the writing style is impressive, and the multiple POVs somewhat obscured the actual narrative--to the extent that it could be determined. These elements may explain some of the critical acclaim, along with the fact that critics tend to think it's cool to applaud books that are dark, dreary, and/or vicious. So I don't know whether I would/will assign it again. I do think it's revealing of certain aspects of its time & culture, but there are other novels.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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In spite of the immoral acts that take place in the book -- which horrified me, as well -- I was strangely attracted to this book. Of course the language is beautiful. I like the structure. The last chapter left me with the feeling that when we are caught up in passion, the future does not matter. The choice that we make right now to follow this passion -- whether it's moral or not, and no matter the consequences -- is a desperate act. We romanticize this at times, but no matter how we do so in our minds, consequences will come. Ah, but in that singular moment of rapture ...

I was also struck by how the little boy (it's been several years since I read the book and I don't remember the characters' names) experienced a seemingly momentary brush with molestation. It meant nothing to the adult. But oh how it changed the boy! It reminded me of an experience I had as a child -- not molestation -- an experience which meant nothing at all to the adult involved, but how 50 years later I still struggle with the trauma of the experience!

As for the immoral act which supposedly brought solace to the two involved, I must say I don't know. Perhaps it shows how skewed they became in their emotions, that they were incapable of processing their experiences in normal, genuinely healing ways. It could be that later on there were consequences for them, too. No matter how beautiful the passion of the moment.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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