Monday, June 9, 2014

the God of small things

I was getting a snack from the vending machine at work and happened to glance at the table of books. It is usually stacked with those small thick mass market paperbacks with the author's name in huge block, books that I imagine someone bought for the beach and cleared out of their house when they moved a few summers later. And I usually ignore these. But sitting there like it knew I'd be looking for it was a book with a title that I needed to understand. I picked it up and turned it around to read the back cover. And here is a confession: I stole it. I bargained that I had a few books I'd drop off in exchange for this one (which, another confession, I haven't done yet).

Then a few days later I was at a bookstore, in line to buy some used books (I can't be helped), and I saw a coffee table book that featured authors' bookshelves. The name of one of my favorites caught my eye, and what else was on his bookshelf but the book I had recently stolen from the work breakroom. I took it as a sign (the God of small things indeed) and started reading it a few days later.

Reading this book required a change of pace from the previous few books I'd read, which were nonfiction narrative and moved fairly quickly. This novel is full of imagery and poetic language, and its structure is complicated, jumping from the present to the past to the further past as memories are evoked. The beginning was slow for me as I adjusted to the depth of concentration I needed to grasp this book. The action picks up at the end, and so did my focus, so I read the second half within a few days.

Something I really loved about this book is that it took trips into the past to tell the beginnings of each character's story and how they fit into the Story this book tells. The author is particular about when she gives you these bits of information, inviting you to deeper feeling and opinion about characters at specific, strategic points in the Story. She also spends a lot of time with scene-setting, making some of the places in the Story (a house, a river) into characters, too.

There are so many beautiful passages that, if given time, I could sit and read over and over. Here is one that I earmarked:
Being with Chacko made Margaret Kochamma feel as though her soul had escaped from the narrow confines of her island country into the vast, extravagant spaces of his. He made her feel as though the world belonged to them -- as though it lay before them like an opened frog on a dissecting table, begging to be examined.   
In the year she knew him, before they were married, she discovered a little magic in herself, and for a while felt like a blithe genie released from her lamp. She was perhaps too young to realize that what she assumed was her love for Chacko was actually a tentative, timorous, acceptance of herself.

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