There is a recurrent grumble that ‘colonial’ writers are unfairly over-represented on every short-list of every literary prize. It arises from the belief that novels from overseas (and particularly from India) are overrated. Novels like this one, however, suggest that any over-representation is perfectly justified.
The quality of the writing in The God of Small Things is distinctly Indian: there is an exuberance, as well as a freshness and unembarrassed immediacy which are rare in good fiction from this country. Sometimes, indeed, this verges upon the parodiable. The opening almost invites the attention of an Indian Stella Gibbons (what would be the title of Cold Comfort Farm, transposed to a warmer climate?):
May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dust green trees. Bad bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, flatly baffled in the sun.
English writers are often afraid of adjectives. Arundhati Roy’s revelling is unselfconscious – which is not the same as being unsophisticated, but allows her an uninhibited and ultimately infectious confidence in the powers of the English language.
This might seem to cast the grumblers as crabbed and old, resenting the vigour