I’m on a high after finishing this magnum opus in a day. Achievement unlocked!
I first chanced upon this book during my eighth grade at my neighbour’s place and back then, my eleven year old brain was simply baffled at the language and I gave up after about six pages. Call it serendipity if you must, but I came across the same book while I was at their place yesterday. And this time, I was bowled over and finished it in a sitting. There’s a lot to process and while I thought of taking some time before reviewing it, I wanted to do it while my head was still full of it. There’s no room in my head for anything else right now. My mom had to shout at me for a full ten seconds before she had my attention.
Getting back to matters, this cracker of a novel won the 1997 Man Booker Prize for Best Fiction Novel (Click to read a review of ‘Room’-nominated for the 2010 Booker Prize) and understandably so. It’s a cut above some of the best novels I’ve read and as The New Yorker rightly proclaimed after its publication,”A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does…“.
Roy HAS invented her own language and some more. She sucks you right into the world of a Malayali Syrian Christian family, describing in vivid detail the sights, sounds and smells of Kerala. Let’s just say she paints quite a picture. At times, I did begin to feel it was a sensory overload but those times were few and far in between.
The story is a criss-cross of narratives centered around a pair of dizygotic twins, Estha and Rahel, born eighteen minutes apart. The book details a small and significant patch of their lives, when they are seven years old and the consequences of this period on their entire lives. Roy weaves a web that goes back and forth between the past and the present and the in between. This non-linear way of storytelling keeps you engrossed and the story line taut. It’s a tale of childhood, innocence, sadness, vulnerability and the prices we pay for yielding when we ought not to.
The recurring theme of the book is forbidden love-
‘Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.’
-and how it comes to wreak havoc on the family.
Roy touches upon every aspect of life in Kerala during the seventies and eighties, not missing any of the details. From the political atmosphere prevailing then to the social discrimination that was a way of life then, Roy touches upon every topic of relevance and yet they are not disjoint. They all come together and fall into place and it is only when you think about it that you realize she has managed to convey everything of importance effortlessly. And that for me, was one of the high points of the book.
Drawing from her own experiences as a child (Roy’s mother was a Malayali Syrian Christian and she lived most of her childhood in Kerala), Roy describes this book as ‘an inextricable mix of experience and imagination.’
An incredible book. An incredible tale. An incredible read.
Buy. Immediately. Right now.