A female writer publishes a book, in English, containing numerous unabashed references to sex, incest, and feminism that anger a lot of conservative Indian men. A positive thing? I agree.
The God of Small Things is one of those novels that works its way through a succession of flashbacks that explain that story. In short, the important thing is not what happened (that’s made obvious early on), but why, and how. The main family, ravaged by India’s horrible caste system. The book is a sort of rebellion against a culture that attempts to divide and categorize everything and everyone, told in dreamy, abstract prose (Roy’s skill with the English language is remarkable for a non-native speaker). My only complaint on a stylistic level is that sometimes Roy will drop a bomb word that apparently doesn’t evoke the same reaction in India as it does here. At one point in the book, she makes reference to a baby coming out of her mother’s “beautiful cunt.” Now, I’m not a censor (far from it), so it’s not that the use of the word “cunt” offends me, but it’s a bit blunt for Roy’s normal style. There are other passages that are similarly afflicted.
In addition to addressing India’s Love Laws and this instrinsic violation of human dignity, the novel deals peripherally with the effects of years of colonization upon India’s culture. How a former plantation house turned into a tourist trap for screaming white kids; how traditional cultural dance performances were shortened down to a few minutes so as not to bore the tourists; how traditional Indian mores are being confronted by up-and-coming writers like Roy.
For its few flaws (it is a first novel, after all), God of Small Things is an excellent book, and a look outside of the typical American domestic novel. A recommended read for a bit of multicultural reading.