Arundhati Roy (India, 1961)
"The God of Small Things" (1997) + relies on a continuous shift of the temporal dimension as its main narrative expedient. The story continuously swings back and forth in time. At the end, it feels like a temporal puzzle that the reader has to patiently reassemble. Unfortunately, all this swinging back and forth detracts from the emotional power of the story. It also leaves unfinished pieces in the story (how Ammu died, why Estha stopped talking) One feels that toying with time is an artifice for the writer to avoid having to develop the characters and the scenes. Throwing in a incest scene and a child molestation scene may help sell the book, but does not quite help understand the characters better (neither the causes nor the effects of these two events are fully explained). Also, the novel relies a bit too much on the "exotic" theme, as if it were written by an English colonist who meets Indians for the first time.
When they were still children, 23 years earlier, their cousin Sophie Mol died. She was the daughter of an Englishwoman, Margaret Kochamma, and of Rahel's Marxist uncle Chacko, but the two had already divorced when the accident happened. At the same time something happened that involved Ammu and the untouchable Velutha, a skilled carpenter who worked for Chacko. Ammu's testimony was not accepted by the police.
Estha was then returned to his father, who lived elsewhere. That was 23 years earlier. Now the father, on his way to Australia, was returning Estha again. In the meantime, Estha had stopped talking.
Rahel had been sent to a convent where she soon got in trouble, then married an American man, Larry, who turned out to be a bad husband and so she divorced him. She lived in New York until she got news of Estha's return. Then she decided to go back to her Indian village.
The reference point for the family is Rahel's grandfather's sister Baby Kochamma, who once became a Catholic nun hoping to seduce a priest.
Estha was once sexually molested by a man selling drinks in a movie theater.
Ammu died in a lodge where she had gone for a job interview. Rahel was the one who had to write to Estha about the death of their mother.
Chacko had many love affairs with women of his factory, and eventually married Margaret Kochamma, an English woman of the lower class. Mammachi (Chacko's mother, Rahel's grandmother) always despised Margaret Kochamma as just another whore.
The story finally focuses on the events that led to the tragedy. Sophie Mol and her mother came for a visit after Sophie Mol's stepfather had died. They were welcome by Chacko and the entire family with excitement.
The day the tragedy happened Ammu had been locked in her room. Velutha's own father had told Ammu's mather that Ammu and Velutha had a love affair. Disgusted that her daughter would make love to an untouchable, Mammachi had locked Ammu in her room. Baby Kochamma told the police that Velutha had molested Ammu. When Ammu had finally been able to go to the police to set the record straight, the police officer had looked down on her and refused to listen to her, thus upholding the caste prejudice (despite the fact that Velutha had even joined the communist party).
At the same time the children had planned an escape because Estha thought that their mother didn't want them anymore. Sophie Mol decided to join them, in order to make the loss feel harder on the parents. The children had a boat and tried to row away, but the boat capsized and Sophie Mol drowned. The twins made it alive to the place where Velutha, by sheer accident, was sleeping. When the police arrived to arrest Velutha, they found two of the missing children. Therefore Velutha was charged with kidnapping and murder. But the children soon told the truth and the police chief got mad at Baby Kochamma, especially since Velutha had been beaten to death by the police. To save both herself from jail and appearances, Baby Kochamma convinced Estha to lie to the police and accuse Velutha of kidnapping them. All this time Ammu had been powerless because she had been locked in her room.
Baby Kochamma basically kicked Ammu out of the house and forced her to send Estha to his father.
The last two chapters are devoted to erotic scenes. Finally meeting again after 23 years, Rahel and Estha make love. Then the first love encounter between Ammu and Velutha is described.
"The Ministry of Utmost Happiness" (2017) +