Wednesday, April 30, 2014

God of Small Things

I've been reading The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, and I finished it today, just in time, as book group meets tomorrow. It's lovely, and won the Booker Prize in 1997, but it was tough to read. It's nonlinear--or non-sequential--in structure, so we are folding back and forth in time. It does have suspense, even though we keep being told who will die and what has happened, and the reason for this came home to me in Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban, named for an elephant the children love, and all about the traditional kathakali dancers. Now, an elephant is not a small thing, but that even comes up in this chapter! "He wasn't Kochu Thomban any more. His tusks had grown. He was Vellya Thomban now. The Big Tusker." The children come of age in this story, too. With much woe.

But the nonlinear structure was addressed when Rahel, the narrator, steps into the temple to watch the Kathakali Man dance. "It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen."

That reminds me of something Flannery O'Connor said about her own stories, that it would be best for you to know from the start that somebody will die, so you can be watching for the meaning all the way through, how the people behave, watching for the why and how, not the "who done it" aspect. I do read Flannery O'Connor over and over. Of course, I'm usually not very comfortable in her stories--often I am laughing and half-horrified at the same time. I guess that was true in The God of Small Things, too.

Back to Arundhati Roy: "In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love,who doesn't And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic." Yes.

I was also moved by the description and plight of the Kathakali Man, who is "the most beautiful of men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument." He is trained in his art since childhood, knows what he will grow up to be, is very skilled, and cannot be or do anything else, even though the times are changing, and his art is no longer respected in the way it was before, not even by his children, who are wrapped up in lives of commerce, not art. "But he himself, left dangling somewhere between heaven and earth, cannot do what they do." He is part of a particular time and place--Kerala, India in decades of great change, late 1960s to early 1990s--and part of History with a capital "H," which, in the story, powerfully disrupts the lives of individuals.

But he also shows us the plight of the consummate artist, "dangling somewhere between heaven and earth," unable to do anything else, whose "body is [his/her] soul." Ah, but don't the great spiritual teachers tell us the same thing?

Speaking of small things, here are some very short reviews, in haiku form, of 4 chapbooks, posted at Escape Into Life, with more art by Simen Johan, whose mammoth, owls, boy, and hill of bugs you see here.


SarahJane said...

Loved your haikreviews, and those photos!

Collagemama said...

Another book to add to my long list of "Need to Read Someday".

jeronimus said...

Thanks for reminding me of this book, Kathleen. I read it in India, and found it fascinating.

Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' reveals at the outset who dies and who kills them, but is no less suspenseful for doing this.

Kathleen said...

Thanks to all!

I read The Secret History recently, and it's true that we are looking for what led to the announced killing, etc. Watching closely the behaviors of all. I was not as enlightened by Tartt (or by Roy) as by O'Connor, I found. Probably a matter of taste.