This is unlike any book I have ever read. Each sentence is constructed carefully, and needs mulling over. Except for those sentences that paint vivid images of scenes I would rather not see. Those I try to forget, as quickly as possible. And these are only the Small Things.
The book has no linear plot. Time is fluid. One moment you are reading about an incident that occurred decades in the pas, then you jump forward to when the character is thinking about it in the recent past- a year or two ago. It’s like having the rug pulled out from under your feet. You’re eagerly reading, trying to find out what happens, and all of a sudden, the screen goes dark in the movie theater, and word “Intermission” flashes on the screen. You have no choice but to wait, and watch the ads that play in the meanwhile.
This is That kind of book. The kind of book where words in the middle of the sentences are casually capitalized, in a cheeky hat-tip to grammar rules. The sort of book where you know better than to hope for a happy ending. The kind where the minute the little boy goes out of the theater and into the cinema hall alone, and the Orange-drink man starts talking to him, dread fills the pit of your stomach. You know just what is going to happen to him.
The characters are bound, confined by societal constructs, while simultaneously defying them simply by being human. I feel silently vindicated when Ammu begins to have relations with an Untouchable, as though her doing so is revenge upon the society which considers her a pariah.
Some scenes are almost too much to bear. They tug at your heart long after you’ve read them, like when Ammu snaps at her daughter, Rahel: “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.” Long after this, Rahel agonizes over her mother’s words. “A little less her Ammu loved her.”
I read it in small, miserly quantities at first, because it made me miserable and tainted the colour of my day. The last half I read in one glorious rush, because I couldn’t wait any longer, sitting in the same shape on the couch without moving for hours. The plot is a cane chair- beautiful, rich with detail, but with gaps in between, parts of the story that have been left unwritten. For instance, I wonder what Estha’s life was like, when he was Returned to his alcoholic father. And what of the gaping, blank hole in place of a future, that lies before Estha and Rahel? Time does not stay still, even at the Ayemenem house.
And yet seemingly irrelevant things are described vividly. A television report in which an American boy is being handcuffed, being watched by Kochu Maria, the cook.
There is much to make the Reader uncomfortable, uneasy, disgusted. I have read the book from cover to cover, and yet I still don’t know whether I liked it or not. I think I did like it, in the end. Reading this was a stepping stone, a Book That Must Be Read, a step away from the books I usually read, and into uncharted, unfamiliar territory.