📙 The God of Small Things

Love & shame & despair & & &

Betrayal is a constant element in The God of Small Things (1997). Love, ideals, and confidence are all forsaken, consciously and unconsciously, innocently and maliciously, and these deceptions affect all of the characters deeply.


In line with its title, The God of Small Things explores how the small things affect people’s behaviour and their lives. This book, which is highly worth reading, is Arundhati Roy’s first published novel. It vividly depicts the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.”

One interpretation of Roy’s theme of forbidden love is that love is such a powerful and uncontrollable force that it cannot be contained by any conventional social code. We could also assume that conventional society unwittingly or somehow wittingly seeks to destroy real love… in this work (and in so many other books and poems and paintings) love is consistently connected to death, ‘loss’ and sadness.

Roy often denies that she’s been influenced by Salman Rushdie’s prose, yet there is clear evidence that there is some (it is a truism indeed that we are beholden to some degree to the shoulders of yesterday’s people; our predecessors; our parents etc.). One example is the level of foreshadowing that occurs throughout Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and like Rushdie (and models Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez) uses an incongruous tone to relate to episodes of sadness and tragedy. Rightly so, in my opinion, both Roy and Rushdie clearly make an issue of the problem that the notion of “shame” plays in South Asia and how it all too often stands in the way of love.

The novel received overall positive reviews in the Western press. Time named it one of the best books of the year. It won the Mann Booker Prize in 1997. Funnily enough (in an ironic way because actually, it is far from funny), in India, the book was criticised in particular for its unrestrained description of sexuality. Indeed, E K Nayanar, the then Chief Minister of Kerala (Roy’s home state) obliged her to answer charges of obscenity!

Arundhati Roy

[Indian | 1961– ]

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy

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

📙 The Buddha of Suburbia

[Hanif Kureishi | 1954– ]

Hanif Kureishi grew up in Kent, England, and studied philosophy at King’s College London. The Buddha of Suburbia was awarded the Whitbread Award for best first novel in 1990 and three years later was adapted as a BBC mini-series with a soundtrack composed by David Bowie. In 2008, The Times included Kureishi in their list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.’


According to Simon Robb, The Buddha of Suburbia, which was Hanif Kureishi’s first published novel, remains an important time capsule for teenage life in 1970s London. The book deals with the racial politics of that time; a time when immigrants (such as the Indian immigrant family at the centre of this work) were treated as intruders on British soil (aren’t they still??).

The book’s plot is quite straightforward and there’s no neat resolution, but Kureishi’s blunt treatment of race, politics and sexuality is gripping and he confronts well the uncomfortable home truths about British attitudes towards foreigners. Its coming of age protagonist Karim, a “hybrid” of Asian and English blood, is searching for sex and a sense of belonging in the suburbs. He is torn between wanting acceptance from two camps: white supremacists and alienated immigrants. Meanwhile, his father, the book’s most memorable character, is on a similar path, teaching Buddhist discipline to a generation of ageing hippies, while Karim indulges in drugs and mutual masturbation behind closed doors.

England’s a nice place if you’re rich, but otherwise it’s a fucking swamp of prejudice [and] class confusion…

Edith Wharton

[American | 1862-1937]

Edith Wharton was born in 1862 (which was during the American Civil War) and published her first short story in 1891. Wharton’s first novel–The Valley of Decision–came out in 1902 and, arguably, her most famous work, The House of Mirth, was published in 1905 See below). She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921 (see all Pulitzer Prize winners here). Edith Wharton died in France in her villa, “Pavilion Colombes,” in 1937.

Beware of monotony; it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.

(Rather like, ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ if people don’t have anything to do with their time, they are likely to get up to monkey business.)

The Age of Innocence

As with most of the novels Wharton set in New York this book makes an ironic commentary on the cruelties and hypocrisies of upper class American society in the years before, during and after WWII.

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska to New York society sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May’s cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Olenska’s sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer’s life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.

It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.

― Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Ethan Frome

When this novel was first published in 1911, most of the reviews were critical and negative. Reviewers said the story was cruel and violent (sales in those early years were poor too). But, fast forward to today and this book is one of Wharton’s most widely read works. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel; it centres on a haunting tale of forbidden romance in the frozen waste of a harsh rural New England winter.

Ethan Frome is a tale of despair, forbidden emotions, and sexual tensions… The protagonist, Ethan Frome, works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeenie. But when Zeenie’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a ‘hired girl’, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent. In the words of the Penguin Classics series editors, “in one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies.”

I want to put my hand out and touch you. I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you’re sick and when you’re lonesome.

― Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

The House of Mirth

This is often described as a black comedy centering on huge wealth and a woman (Lily) who can define herself only through the perceptions of others. Wharton is mercilessly frank as she chronicles Lily’s fall from grace, contrasting psychological insights with descriptions of external effects.

The beautiful Lily Bart lives among the nouveaux riches of New York City – people whose millions were made in railroads, shipping, land speculation and banking. In this morally bankrupt world, Lily, 29, seeks a husband who can satisfy her cravings for endless admiration and all the trappings of wealth. But her quest comes to a scandalous end when she is accused of being the mistress of a wealthy man…

It is so easy for a woman to become what the man she loves believes her to be.

― Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence
From page to stage: “The Age of Innocence”

📙 Fleabag

“The Scriptures”

In case you haven’t heard, Fleabag is a British TV show created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also stars in the lead role. Well, anyway it lasted for two seasons and went out on a high (it was kept short and sweet). Well anyway (*II) she’s just launched a book which is basically the script of the TV show:

It is very funny in a dark and frank way but as a critic did say, “long after it’s pulled you in with its irreverence and jokes about sex, and beguiled you with its cutting wit and messily human characters, it reveals that it’s actually a tragedy.”


flea___bag
portraiture, often best when in black & white

 

Richard Dawkins

[English | 1941– ]

Richard Dawkins is an English evolutionary biologist, author and professor at Oxford University. His seminal work is The Selfish Gene (1976), which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. His book, The Magic of Reality (2011), really fascinates me!

The Magic Of Reality By Richard Dawkins - dust jacket
The Magic Of Reality: How we know what’s really true

PDF extracts:
¶  pp. 12-13 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)
¶  pp. 32-52 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)
¶  pp. 118-139 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)
¶  pp. 246-265 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


Here are some more of his books:

Richard Dawkins

Climbing Mount Improbable
How could such an intricate object as the human eye – so complex and so precise – have come about by chance? In this masterful piece of popular science, Richard Dawkins builds a powerful and carefully reasoned argument for evolutionary adapatation as the force behind all life on earth. The metaphor of ‘Mount Improbable’ represents the combination of perfection and improbability that we find in the seemingly ‘designed’ complexity of living things. And through it all runs the thread of DNA, the molecule of life, responsible for its own destiny on an unending pilgrimage through time.

Science in the Soul
This book is a series of essays and letters written by Dawkins. Topics range from evolution and Darwinian natural selection to the role of scientist as prophet, whether science is itself a religion, the probability of alien life in other worlds, and the beauties, cruelties and oddities of earthly life in this one. Critics have said that this collection is a, “sparkling showcase for Professor Dawkins’ rapier wit and, the beauty of his prose.”

Unweaving the Rainbow
Keats accused Newton of destroying the poetry of the rainbow by explaining the origin of its colours. In this text, Dawkins argues that Keats could not have been more mistaken, and shows how an understanding of science enhances our wonder of the world. He argues that mysteries do not lose their poetry because they are solved: the solution is often more beautiful than the puzzle, uncovering even deeper mysteries. Dawkins takes up the most important and compelling topics in modern science, from astronomy and genetics to language and virtual reality, combining them in a landmark statement on the human appetite for wonder. This book has been labeled:

A dazzling, passionate polemic against anti-science movements of all kinds.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
Charles Darwin’s masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity. In The Greatest Show on Earth Dawkins, like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the ‘time clocks’ of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics.

The Blind Watchmaker
Acclaimed as the most influential work on evolution written in the last hundred years, The Blind Watchmaker offers an inspiring and accessible introduction to one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time. A brilliant and controversial book which demonstrates that evolution by natural selection – the unconscious, automatic, blind yet essentially non-random process discovered by Darwin – is the only answer to the biggest question of all: why do we exist?

The Four Horsemen
This is an edited work. Known as the ‘four horsemen,’**** these four big thinkers of the twenty-first century met only once. Their electrifying examination of ideas on this remarkable occasion was intense and wide-ranging. Everything that was said as they agreed and disagreed with one another, interrogated ideas and exchanged insights – about religion and atheism, science and sense – speaks with urgency to our present age.

The Four Horsemen

The dialogue was recorded, and is now transcribed and presented in this book. Questions they asked of each other included: (1) Is it ever possible to win a war of ideas? (2) Is spirituality the preserve of the religious? (3) Are there any truths you would rather not know?


Notes
**** “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible (the Book of Revelation). According to the main modern interpretation, this prophecy describes a period of time when a quarter of the population of the earth would be killed by a combination of wars, famine and disease. It is the precursor to the myth of armageddon.

Cavaleiros
In the Book or Revelation we watch the end of times beginning with the opening of the Seven Seals. The first four seals reveal the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , leaders of disgrace.

Apocalypse
— The complete final destruction of the world, as described in the biblical book of Revelation.
— An event involving destruction or damage on a catastrophic scale. “The apocalypse of World War II.”

Armageddon
— In the bible, the last battle between good and evil before the Day of Judgement.
— A dramatic and catastrophic conflict, especially one seen as likely to destroy the world or the human race.
“nuclear Armageddon”

📙 On the Road

Jack Kerouac | American | 1922–1969

On the Road is the novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across the United States. It has been described as, “one of the great American novels.” Above all else, it is a story about loss. Ted Gioia contends that it is a book of broken dreams and failed plans. It’s a book about the search for something meaningful to hold on to,” writes Meghan O’Rourke, “the famous search for ‘it,’ a truth larger than the self, which, of course, is never found.”

My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.

Today, Kerouac is considered a literary iconoclast, recognised for his method of spontaneous prose — covering e.g., spirituality, promiscuity, drugs and poverty — and continues to be something of an underground celebrity. As Hilary Holladay puts it, “Kerouac was this deep, lonely, melancholy man… [you read this] sense of loss and sorrow on every page.” According to John Leland, aspects of the book such as the tales of passionate friendships and the search for revelation, “are timeless.”

Happiness consists in realising it is all a great strange dream.