Literature: Small and indelibly sour

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The God of Small Things is haunted by indelible sourness. "A sourmetal smell, like steel bus-rails, and the smell of the bus conductor's hands from holding them"; the "sour farty smell" of juicy red ants squashed by three small children at play; the dank briney fumes of the Paradise Pickles factory; and yes, the vinegar-tongued sourness of the cavilling critics who sneered when Arundhati Roy won last year's Booker Prize.

The 37-year-old first-time novelist from Kerala, Southern India, already had a million-pound advance as a shield of consolation, but now Arundhati Roy can add to her armoury the vindicatory knowledge that her book has bobbed to the top of the worldwide best-seller lists.

In a flurry of untamed curls and dark-eyed sultriness, Roy's face already smoulders out from every bookshop window in London, but this week she is back in person to give a reading at The Royal Geographical Society.

The God of Small Things sifts and re-sifts through the same few events which propel the novel's central tragedy. A small girl drowns, an Untouchable is beaten to death, and a beautiful mother with "the reckless rage of a suicide bomber" sinks into a pitiful lonely grave at the "viable die- able age" of 31.

Seen through the eyes of seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel, the dominant memories are child-sized and rich with poetic inconsequentiality. A small black bat climbs up a funeral sari with gently clinging curled claws; a puffy old woman sits in a sky-blue car, "terror, sweat and talcum powder blended into a mauve paste between her rings of neck fat", but then comes the unforgettable drowned body of Sophie Mol; "green weed and river grime were woven into her beautiful red-brown hair. Her sunken eyelids were raw, nibbled at by fish."

If you prefer your literature home-grown, head for Stoke Newington, where the Midsummer Festival kicks in with a week of events from local stars. Roving poets Jem Rolls and Cuban Redd entertain travellers on the 73 bus (16 Jun); Christina Dunhill and Caroline Trettine walk the moonlit highway of desire and revenge in My Kiss, Your Nemesis (16 Jun) while Nicola Barker and Romesh Gunesekera recount tales of feuds and dysfunctionality (18 Jun).

Arundhati Roy reads at The Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, SW7 (0171-636 1577) Mon 15 Jun, 7pm

Stoke Newington Midsummer Festival (0181-356 5358)