After reading this book I read an interview with the author in the back. In this interview she mentioned that her goal was to make a “completely unfilmable book.” I have to say that, at least in my opinion, she very much succeeded. I cannot imagine how this could ever be adapted without major changes of many kinds.
This is the story of Estha and Rahel, two egg twins. It is also the story of their Ammu. It is also the story of an English girl meeting her family in India. It is also a family saga. It is also about a single, horrible night where everything went wrong. It is about love in all it’s many, myriad forms. It is also about none of these things. Except it is about Estha and Rahel. In reality, the plot has very little to do with the story itself. The story is more about how the people in the book react to and absorb the events in the plot as well as the changing, uncertain world they inhabit in Ayemenem.
The book jumps back and forth in time, both between the Twins’ childhood and adult life, but also to various points before and after the fateful day their cousin, Sophie Mol, comes to visit from England. The vast majority of the book is told as a child’s memory, which is to say the feelings and impressions of place, time, and emotion take far more prevalence than getting the account of actual events correct. We are almost constantly hearing about Estha’s Elvis Prestly hairdo (his “puff”) and Rahel’s ponytail (her fountain in a Toyko-in-love) to the point they become interchangeable with the kids’ names, which is very true of the nature of memory. It did take me a while to get into this style of storytelling. Eventually I did, and really came to enjoy really just being immersed in the sensory experience of the book, rather than wondering ‘what happens next?’ I also figured out pretty quickly this is not a “read a couple chapters while half asleep before bed” kind of book. I needed to give it attention in order to keep track and take it in.
The counter to all of this, though, is it makes it really difficult to talk about the book, because it is really quite an amorphous piece of literature. I really feel like I would know what it was like to live in that house, in that town, in that part of India after reading this, even though describing the story would make sound almost more like a novella than a full novel.
There is a lot in here, family structure, class struggle, the various ways we kid ourselves into thinking we’re the good guy when… we don’t want to look to close. The various ways we all become shaped and jaded by the lives we lead. How sometimes children can understand the world better than all the adults. The way seemingly smart decisions can still come around and bite us in the ass. The ability was all have inside us to be incredibly cruel. These are all things I thought about while reading this book. I also thought about just how many times testicles were mentioned and/or described in this book. There are an unusually high number of testicles in this book. I was trying to think if it was a metaphor or something,but if there was a deeper meaning then I admit I missed it completely.
I very much see how this won the Booker Prize. Roy’s grasp of description is incredible. I found it interesting that there was such a dust up about this book in India after it came out. In fact the government tried to ban it, indicating it was mortally indecent based on one, rather tame but gorgeously described, sex scene; but then the book won the Booker Prize and started getting a lot of international attention and the judge was kind of loathe to rule on the case at all. On the one hand, he didn’t want to directly contradict the conservative government, on the other, he didn’t want to create an International Incident by banning such an acclaimed book. It feels rather appropriate, in a weird way, given how similar themes seem to crop up in the book itself. (There were other things in the book that I would think would be potentially more alarming, especially surrounding child abuse and molestation, but that’s what they went with. It’s always interesting to see what people get hung up on.)
This is my Award Winner Book for CBR Bingo. It won the Booker Prize in 1997.