L. (ekaterinnile) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 1-3 (but mostly 3)

Last year I started out well ahead of the game (I think I read 7 books in January), but I just finished #3 for 2012 on Monday. Ah, well, hopefully this month I'll have more free time!

Book #3 was Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, which I really enjoyed.

According to Amazon.com: With sensuous prose, a dreamlike style infused with breathtakingly beautiful images and keen insight into human nature, Roy's debut novel charts fresh territory in the genre of magical, prismatic literature. Set in Kerala, India, during the late 1960s when Communism rattled the age-old caste system, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel's protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspenseful narrative, Roy reveals the family tensions that led to the twins' behavior on the fateful night that Sophie drowned. Beneath the drama of a family tragedy lies a background of local politics, social taboos and the tide of history, all of which come together in a slip of fate, after which a family is irreparably shattered. Roy captures the children's candid observations but clouded understanding of adults' complex emotional lives. Rahel notices that "at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside." Plangent with a sad wisdom, the children's view is never oversimplified, and the adult characters reveal their frailties and in one case, a repulsively evil power in subtle and complex ways. While Roy's powers of description are formidable, she sometimes succumbs to overwriting, forcing every minute detail to symbolize something bigger, and the pace of the story slows. But these lapses are few, and her powers coalesce magnificently in the book's second half. Roy's clarity of vision is remarkable, her voice original, her story beautifully constructed and masterfully told.

Personally, I didn't have a problem with Roy's writing style, as the Amazon review alludes to. The book begins with one of the final chronological events in the story (the funeral), and for the first few chapters it's not always clear how Roy is building towards what the reader knows is coming. (For this reason, I put it down twice only two or three chapters in.) But the story really does come together in the second half, and even the heavier, darker parts of the book still read very smoothly and richly.

Background knowledge isn't essential to understand the story - if you have even a passing familiarity with the caste system, you'll be all set, but if you're like me and enjoy details, read this in a place where you can stop and Google things on occasion. (I found the novel's Wikipedia page helpful in explaining some of the finer points of the caste system and of Communism in India, and the historical and thematic notes are pretty spoiler-free.)

For the record, Book #1 was Carl Hiassen's Star Island, and Book #2 Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Both were okay, not outstanding reads but hardly wastes of time.
Tags: historical fiction, man booker winner, modern lit

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