I was a little sceptical of picking another award-winning book of the shelves after I had a bad experience reading one book which I kind of hated. But I still thought of taking the risk and picked up this book. The chance paid off handsomely and left me with a beautiful reading experience. The experience of reading this brilliantly written book can be narrowed down to 1 word as told by a friend: Surreal. It took Arundhati 4 years to finish of this book and the efforts and work that went into writing this book for 4 years is clearly visible and I felt that every page deserved the Booker Prize solely because of the honesty and boldness with which it is written. The message sent out through the book is that, the most powerful emotion of all is, Love. Presence and absence of it can make a big difference. It cannot be forced on anyone, including family, for any reason, it’s something that can make you do things which you can be proud of or regret, and it’s that emotion over which you absolutely have no control of. The highlight of this book is definitely the way it’s written. The depth of every emotion is beautifully penned down and almost brings it to life. This story shows how little things that happened in the past and how the lack of care, attention and love can completely change a person’s life and can alter his present and future.
The plot is set in Kerala in 1969 when the caste system was prevalent. Rahel and Estha are fraternal twins with a ‘Siamese soul’. Born eighteen minutes apart, these twins were never considered as two different individuals by anyone. Rahel was the bubblier twin who had a ‘fountain’ hairstyle and red coloured sunglasses and her brother Estha was considered the serious and responsible twin who always had an Elvis puff. Their mother, Ammu, had made two mistakes that changed the lives of everyone. After a bitter separation from her husband, she returned home with her kids. She lived with her old mother (a widow), her aunt (a spinster) and her brother Chacko (whose wife left him for another man after their child was born). It was a perfect example of a broken family in which every member lost something. When Chacko’s ex-wife Margaret and daughter, Sophie come to visit them for Christmas, things unexpectedly get way out of hand, get murkier and changed every single person’s life. The events of those two weeks left each member with scars that stayed fresh as long as they lived.
The portrayal of ‘different’ kinds of love has been depicted beautifully in this book. Unrequited love, failed love, undemanding love, forced love, and most importantly “forbidden love”. Ammu’s aunt remained a spinster her entire life when she realised that she couldn’t get the man she loved, when her love was unrequited. She did whatever she could to keep the unrequited love alive, even after the man died. Chacko’s failed marriage paints a picture of failed love but the way he still loved his wife even though she cheated on him depicts the unconditional part of love. He never remarried and loved his daughter even though he stayed away from her. Rahel was made to believe that she had to love her cousin Sophie, just because she was family. Ammu loved an untouchable, which was forbidden. Another example of forbidden love mentioned was between the twins which eventually resulted in incest. (This surely must have stirred up some controversy!) Rahel beautifully reasoned the cause for all this was because Love Laws were not made properly. “The laws that lay down who should be loved, how and how much.”
Everyone shared the emotion of love but it brought different experiences for everyone. Uncannily, loss and betrayal of some form was also shared between all. The events scarred the young twins and they carried the guilt and regret throughout their life, because of their childhood mistakes. They had almost a perfect childhood and were loved and cared by many people (minus the father), but the innocent mistakes of the past left everyone hating them and they grew up as lonely adults, whom no one could understand and they ended up seeking each other’s company in the end. Everyone grieved their respective loss silently and alone.
Arundhati’s writing is like poetry. It comes effortlessly and makes ugly things look beautiful. Everybody’s character is sketched in great detail, thus making it easier to understand and justify their actions and reactions throughout the book. The only minus of the book is that certain parts have gross description and might not be appreciated by the readers. But this is to show how some incidents that scar a child is remembered in minute details and no matter how hard it’s tried, some things just cannot be forgotten. The playfulness, the fixation and repetition of some phrases, these qualities are suggestive of a child's stream-of-consciousness. This works very well for parts of the novel told from children's viewpoints. The narrative is non-sequential. The events mentioned are like pieces of a puzzle which are put together slowly till the very end and once the puzzle is finished one can see a sad but beautiful story. This book is a perfect example of how a simple, regular story can be taken to another level just by writing and expressing it beautifully. The twins who led a normal life as naughty, rebellious kids, grew up (in their words) to be ‘emptiness’ and ‘quietness’ as adults, who were never understood by anyone but each other. Once you turn the last page you will definitely have a moment of ‘quietness’ as then the story completely sinks in and intensity of the emotions in the story is felt but it will surely not leave you with a feeling of ‘emptiness’. This book certainly deserved the Booker prize. But more than that, it deserves a read. Because it’s beautiful. And surreal.