Arundhati Roy is the author of The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than forty languages. Roy has also published several works of non-fiction and is a widely respected human rights activist. Several of Roy’s works are set out below.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
As Alex Clark articulates, there is something Janus-faced about the way we fetishise the writing of fiction: Roy is at once seen to be participating in the “real world” but also as having abandoned – or been abandoned by – the creative muse that we imagine propels all artists. Her recent interview with the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead, in which she said: “To me, there is nothing higher than fiction. Nothing. It is fundamentally who I am. I am a teller of stories. For me, that’s the only way I can make sense of the world, with all the dance that it involves,” suggests that she would not agree with that binary worldview. And neither, indeed, does her second novel.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) is, according to Alex Clark, “a curious beast.” There are many many characters, its written in an achronological way and while the style is somewhat haphazard, it has passages of breathtakingly composed and powerful prose: The idea that the personal is political and vice versa informs its every sentence. This novel of maddeningly frayed edges, wonky pacing and occasional longueurs. But its patchwork of narratives, painful, funny, sexy, violent, earthy, otherworldly, its recurring images of lost and recovered children, individual sacrifice and self-denial, and its depiction of the constant battle toward self-assertion in a society still held in thrall to the taxonomy of caste and class, make for a disturbing and memorable return to the land of make-believe.
An Atlas of Impossible Longing
According to Shirley Chew (2008), the novel is, “deftly and sensitively narrated.” According to Marie Arana (2011), “every once in a great while, a novel comes along to remind you why you rummage through shelves in the first place. Why you peck like a magpie past the bright glitter of publishers’ promises. Why you read.” Roy’s An Atlas of Impossible Longing is such a book, a novel to convince us that boldly drawn sagas with larger-than-life characters are still possible in a relentlessly postmodern world.
Spanning three generations of an Indian family from the turn of the 20th Century to India’s partition, An Atlas of Impossible Longing traces the intertwining lives of the inhabitants of a vast and isolated house on the outskirts of a small town in Bengal. One of the book’s main protagonists is a first-time novelist, is no one you’ve heard of, and yet she is also no stranger to books. She lives in the picturesque hill station of Ranikhet, in the distant Himalaya mountains, and commutes to New Delhi, where she works for an academic publisher that specializes in South Asia. It begins in 1907, when Amulya leaves Calcutta with his young wife, Kananbala, and travels to the backwater of Songarh to open a factory to manufacture herbal potions and perfumes. In time, they produce a son, who is a joy to them both, but the quiet cramp of small-town life becomes anathema to the lonely mother. She starts to evince strange symptoms, begins speaking out of turn and is given to obscene outbursts.
As months go by, it is clear she has gone mad.
The God of Small Things
Betrayal is a constant element in The God of Small Things. Love, ideals, and confidence are all forsaken, consciously and unconsciously, innocently and maliciously, and these deceptions affect all of the characters deeply. Read my review: The God of Small Things