It is rare for a book to describe events such that they seem imprinted on your own memory. I first read this Booker Prize winning novel in 2013; thinking about it still sends a shrill down my spine. Although it is Arundhati Roy’s first work of fiction, the intricate descriptions and subtle use of prose to create visual depictions make it apparent that this is the work of no novice. Much like India itself, where this story is set, the novel can best be described as vibrant and with a lingering sense of holiness.
Set in Ayemenem, Kerela, the book begins with multiple passages that aim to set the scene; if long brooding descriptions aren’t your thing, you may feel (as does John Crace) that these “passages pile up in a car-crash of a creative writing tutorial”. For those who love to ponder over the philosophical intricacies of the natural world, however, the introduction of the novel should prove to be a fascinating read.
The story revolves around the growth of a set of dizygotic twins, Rahel and Estha, who seem to share an almost supernatural sense of telepathy. One could choose to view this set-up with scientific cynicism which would cause it all to seem rather ridiculous. However, I prefer to see it through the lens offered by Roy’s descriptions; it is all a somewhat dreamy memory which houses metaphors that provide an insight to matters of the human condition.
The charm of this story lies in its emphasis on “Small things”, as is made evident in the title. Things like the death of cousin, sexual molestation of children and the smell of fresh idlis. These things, baring the last one, are shocking to any reader. But the context in which they happen cause the characters to wash them over, to see them as casual occurrences in a chaotic life. But these small things cause big changes. They cause the separation of the telepathic twins and even cause one of them to go mute. The small things happen to both of them, yet they both grow up differently.
Overall, if you are a fan of vivid descriptions and the sinuous exploration of the human spirit, this book is for you. Otherwise, it may just leave you with a headache.
As Crace hilariously parodies:
“”That’s the whole point,” Chacko replied. “This is India, a land of sensory and poetic overload, a land where small boats bob in rippling water of green silk, a land teeming with literary prizes for those who can find the right imagery to win them. But these are small things.””