Ayemenam, Kerala and the Booker Prize
Roy’s book The God of Small Things (TGOST) catapulted her to international fame. A book that won her the Booker prize and which had everyone raving, one which drew comparisons with Salman Rushdie’s Mighnight’s Children. It was an expose on the Malayali Syrian Christian family and of the oppressive happenings of a family, rarely spoken about in public. The book in itself is very atmospheric and descriptive. It is very apparent that Roy knows her Kerala, her language and culture both as an insider and an outsider. Kerala is one of those lands which lends itself to great story telling. All one needs to do is describe the landscape and you have a veritable location to set your story in. Ayemenam, with its narrow moss covered limestone pathways, winding green algae filled backwaters, dark rubber estates and verdant monsoons provides just that. And the fact that this book won the Booker Prize is validation that enough people ,at least those who matter enough to award a famous prize, found it riveting.
Pointlessly Poignant Passive Aggression
I, unfortunately, found the book very unsatisfactory.
Firstly, all the characters were two dimensional stereotypes of feudalism and repression. While it is common to see such traits characters, the book is populated almost exclusively by people driven by the system. Anyone who follows Roy’s literary and political works can discern that this book was a rant against her favorite topics of capitalism and patriarchy with a good mix of rural romanticism.
While it makes for a heartfelt book, interesting it is not.
Secondly, the book is a study on passive aggression. An inward looking self conscious outlook towards life. The characters have no iota of humour, will or empathy, and all they like to do is wallow in their own perceived grief and narrow mindedness. Roy ascribes intent to action too often. If Chacko smiles, there is a sadness behind his eyes. If Baby Kochamma writes, there is a sadness behind her lines. If Ammu relaxes, there is a sadness behind her languish. Roy wants to impress upon us the unknown and unsaid but ends up using the same trick too often till we are left plodding through a pretentious plot which has been done to death in Malayalam movies (which incidentally are exemplary in such subjects).
And finally her style. She uses words and sentences stylistically. A recurring and backward spelling trick that might have worked well if the story moved at breakneck speed. Otherwise it just takes up space in an already slow moving plot.
This book hits on some of the most prevalent and under discussed issues of feudalism, casteism, corruption and family dysfunction in Kerala during the 1990s but sadly cannot be held up as a work of art or literature worthy of a Booker Prize.
Check out my conscience ridden second review about The God of Small Things here.