This is a novel that is stylistically dense, rich with simile and imagery; politically skeptical, portrating hypocrisy and double dealing across the spectrum of 1960s Indian politics; sexually charged, with scenes of child molestation and of forbidden sexual relations; and socially critical, with its depiction of the injustices of the class and caste system still in place at the time.
Yet it was a difficult novel for me to read, mostly because of the sense of dread that Roy injects with the frequent flash-forward narrative: you know within a few dozen pages that this story is a tragedy, and that stable and sometimes happy lives will be destroyed, and that nothing will ever be the same again for the characters in the story.
I have seen several mentions of the non-linear narrative, the jumping back and forth. I think that Roy did this, in part, to achieve the effect she describes in Hindu mythology and in “great” stories: the ability to enter the story at any point and be immersed in it; to achieve not merely a beginning, a middle, and an end, but something that envelops the listener and changes the listener’s view of the world. Here, in The God of Small Things the constant, the invariant across all the temporal jumps, is the class and caste distinctions that color and pervert human relationships. Entering at any point in the story you will see the effects of class distinctions: the self-conflicted Chacko who can’t decide if he is a revolutionary Marxist or a factory-owning landlord; Pillai, who uses class struggle as a means to his political elevation; the resentment of Touchable workers toward a very talented Untouchable; the rotten scheming of Baby Kochamma who, owing to the fact that she has nothing other than her caste, religion, and class, uses caste privilege as a means of destroying everyone around her.
The novel is a tragedy in the classical sense: all the characters are destroyed in the end; either killed outright, or so damaged that they will never recover. So this is not a pleasant read, but I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read truly great writing.