A modern take on an ancient Indian drama
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Wednesday 15 October 1997
Last year, the completed manuscript reached Pankaj Mishra in Delhi, now a dynamic agent but then an editor with the local branch of HarperCollins. Indian rights to The God of Small Things were sold for pounds 2500, a sum that sounds pitiable by Western standards, but set a record for a subcontinental novel. Delhi newspapers developed an obsessive interest in Roy's looks, her background, her attitudes. The sometimes scary self-belief of this slight but formidable woman was quickly tested.
The British agent, David Godwin, had read the manuscript at last year's Frankfurt book fair. Immediately, he flew out to Delhi to find Roy. Soon he had secured a British advance of pounds 150,000 from Harper Collins's Flamingo imprint. Before long, overseas deals had trebled that sum.
Soon after the Booker shortlist was announced, Roy the newcomer emerged as favourite ahead of three distinguished mid-career novelists: Bernard MacLaverty, Jim Crace and Tim Parks. Last night (for once) the ante-post tip did come out in front.
Does The God of Small Things deserve all the fuss? Certainly, although fans of the conventionally picturesque Indian novel in English have not always found it it to their Raj-trained taste. Yes, it deals with the tragic upshot of a cross-cultural liaison between a Christian woman, Ammu, and a low-caste Hindu man in the lush, watery - and Communist-run - state of Kerala. But the sharp and shrewd wit and wordplay of Ammu's twins Rahel and Estha - with their doomed half-English cousin, Sophie Mol - drag this landscape into an unsettling new world of pop songs, radio jingles and advertising slogans. Meanwhile, the priapic pickle-factory mogul Chacko spouts Marxist dogma, chases women and makes money.
The God of Small Things is an ancient drama played out against an unmistakably modern backdrop. It turns the clash of tongues and histories in Kerala into the motor of its comedy, its lyricism and its fine intelligence. And, in doing so, it makes the remarkable Suzanna Arundhati Roy a fitting standard-bearer for the immensely rich literature of India today.
- 1 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 2 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 3 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 HSBC closes bank accounts belonging to Muslim clients in the UK
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK
Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
Drew Barrymore’s sister Jessica found dead in her car surrounded by 'dozens of white pills'
'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- < Previous
- Next >
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...
£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...
£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...
£40000 - £70000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Tax Solicitor An excel...