The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Summary: Estha and Rahel are twins born eighteen minutes apart in India. When they are seven years old, their cousin Sophie Mol visits from England; a cataclysmic event happens which tears the family apart. Estha and Rahel are reunited again years later as adults, and must deal with the fact that when they were young, their lives were destroyed by the “Love Laws”, which lay down the rules of “who must be loved, and how, and how much”.

My Thoughts: No summary could do this book justice. Winner of the 1997 Man Booker prize, Roy’s novel completely blew me away. I was bored by the synopsis on the back cover, but thought I would give it a try anyway (not that I had much choice; I was in Guatemala with a very limited number of English books).

Roy creates a lush, enveloping, buzzing, and foreshadowed world in The God of Small Things. She tells the story out of chronological order, and continuously references the event known as The Loss of Sophie Mol, a mysterious happening that everyone tiptoes around. There are flashbacks and tangents all over the place. Webs of stories and snippets of life spread out everywhere. Even now, after finishing it, I’m not sure how she pulled it off. It was a delicate net that settled down over me. And it worked. Perfectly. Tragically.

I wouldn’t describe many books as A Work of Art, but The God of Small Things definitely was.

The God of Small Things is about love, and forbidden love, and class, and betrayal. There is also history and politics, smoothly woven into the background of India, where the story takes place.

Highly recommended. Strange and different from anything else I’ve ever read. Another best book read in 2011.

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We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Summary: The Mulvaneys are blessed by all that makes life sweet—a hardworking father, a loving mother, three fine sons, and a bright, pretty daughter. They are confident in their love for each other and their position in the rural community of Mt. Ephraim, New York. But something happens on Valentine’s Day, 1976—an incident that is hushed up in the town and never spoken of in the Mulvaney home—that rends the fabric of their family life.

As the years pass the secrets they keep from each other threaten to destroy them, but ultimately they bridge the chasms between them, and reunite in the spirit of love and healing. Rarely has such an acclaimed writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

My Thoughts: My first exposure to Oates’ writing was with The Female of the Species, her short story collection. And I stopped about halfway through the book because I was too scared to keep reading. There are several reasons for this. Number one, I am a huge scaredy-cat. I never watch scary movies. Can’t handle it. Number two, Oates’ writing has this quality that I cannot describe except to say that at times it is too real. Too close for comfort. I have experienced this once before when I was unable to finish The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for the same reasons. Too real–and thus it scared me.

We Were the Mulvaneys had a similar quality but less so, and I was so engrossed in the life of the characters that I was able to finish it. And I’m glad I did. Oates takes a tragedy and expands it, entrapping you in the story and making you desperate to find out what happens to everyone in the aftermath. And it’s definitely tragic. But also hopeful.