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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 27 February 2001
Having read and heard lots of fairly negative reviews, I began this book rather apprehensively. And, seemingly like many other people, found it quite difficult to get into, and very nearly gave up after the first few chapters. I'm really not a fan of flowery language just for the sake of it, especially when it makes it difficult to understand what's going on properly! And I thought it was going to be one of those types of books. But then about halfway through, I started really getting into it.
The story jumps about a lot, with twins Estha and Rahel as children in parts and adults in other parts. But each chapter gives you a little clue at the beginning as to which era it is talking about. The twins as children have all sorts of little childish phrases, songs and thoughts that not only portray their playful innocence but also lend the reader a hint as to which period the chapter is currently in. Some reviewers have said that the jumping about in time made the story unnecessarily difficult to follow, and was done just for artistic prize-winning purposes, but I have to disagree. Had the story been told chronologically, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as atmospheric. There were parts of the book where the most important point to get across was the sheer sadness and melancholy. To have had a full prior knowledge of why the sadness was there would have jaded the scene with the reader's own reaction or interpretation of the preceding events. In real life when you meet people with a story or a history behind them, you meet the person and get to know their character first, and then the full story unfolds later on in bits and bobs, just like in this book. Also, that is the way it was for the twins - they didn't really understand the full horror and meaning of what had happened until they grew up. It was a way of showing how the events shaped the twins' lives gradually as they grew to see the significance of each event, without the writer having to spell it out.
It is true that a good story makes a great read, and there are times when over-descriptiveness and too many metaphors can spoil a book and make it boring. But in this case, for me at least, the metaphors combined with the repetitiveness of silly childish chants and phrases made the atmosphere and ambience of the book just right. It also succeeded in bringing me right into the feeling of childhood, with Bar Nowls and Lay Ter (dum dum).
I have to agree with the more positive critics, that this book IS beautifully written. It definitely left me thinking about it for ages afterwards, with each little scene left swimming about in my head for me to daydream away to! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am now feeling a bit lost until I get stuck into another good book.
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on 8 January 2010
This is a fable of modern india played out through the lives of the central family - an india that is crippled by outer, inner and secret burdens: caste/social control, duty/tradition, and the essential heartbreaking element of this novel: taboo. The plot is impossible to delineate and is executed so adroitly and delicately that rather than just being told the story directly, you realise or suspect by degrees what is going on - much as it is when we might suspect our lovers are having an affair and we build up evidence not only from the present but even the distant past! And yet we remain unsure.

In order to accomplish this novel, Roy has had to pass the english language through a prism and bend it round corners, producing some of the most celestial prose I've ever read and some of the most haunting metaphors.

Within the family, issues of sexual abuse, bereavement and true love are hemmed in by taboo: they remain, as the title goes 'small things' with heartbreaking results, while all around the characters, there exists an india that is luscious and fragrant and well ordered by tradition.

However the sheer beauty of the prose carried me through to the end of the novel - leaving me not only genuinely grieving for this family, but also committed to trying to be more compassionate and understanding in my own life.
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on 10 August 2000
Having read the reviews of others - I simply had to write to protest to comments like 'dull' and 'boring', 'couldn't finish it', 'maybe if I'd travelled in India' bla blah blah. Come on! I love nothing more than a good book - and this, I have to say folks, is one of the most beautifully executed books I have ever read. So much so that I can't think of anyone I know I haven't bought it for or lent it to. I think this author deserves full credit for her efforts and every writing prize there is going. I couldn't even begin thinking about how to write like that. She has a unique talent which I think so many others lack. If I were a writer - I would have wanted to be Roy and written this very book. Don't be put off by the negative reviews on this book - give it a chance. I stumbled on this book by chance - no-one had recommended it to me and I really am glad I picked it up. I don't think that this book is 'hyped' at all. It doesn't get its due credit - I've never read a book that has made me feel so strongly before. In terms of writing talent, it surpasses another of my favourite books - Memoirs of a Geisha - and thats saying something.
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on 1 November 2014
The best use of the English language I have ever read - sometimes the paragraph's were so beautifully written that I re-read it time after time. Wonderful, wonderful read. I will make sure to read all her book as they touch the essence of humanity and the 'actors' come to life.
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on 12 August 2015
I was very very disappointed with this book. The author is very good at flowery language with lots of metaphors. However the story is practically non existent. There is no continuity and the reader is never sure what the time period is. It was only a cheap book but I say don't waste any money on it at all.
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on 4 March 2015
I gave up half way through, which is very unusual for me, as I tend to keep on, hoping it will get better. I may have carried on just to find out exactly how Sophie Mol died, but I couldn't even sustain enough interest for that. Some of the descriptions were good, but the constant jumping from past to present was far too confusing.
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on 13 December 1998
This is a haunting, poetic novel, utterly gripping in its inexorable description of the approaching tragedy that awaits its two main characters.
You know what is coming, and grieve for the passionate woman at the centre of the book, for her two children, for the lover, for the country that could allow this to happen, for the passionate at heart everywhere.
The language is lyrical and ringingly poetic: some of the images will stay with me for a long time. I was particularly taken by the writer's ability to take a child-like perspective at moments of intense emotion, to see from a child's eyes, yet to describe feelings which are simultaneously adult.
A stunning first novel; rich, intense, powerfully moving.
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on 18 October 2013
This book is extremely well-written. Roy has an astonishing talent for metaphor, simile and characterisation. It is a book worth reading and a deeply thoughtful and poignant and poetic meditation on tragedy and the nature of man and man's cruelty, which runs alongside the actual story like the river. One major criticism, and it has been mentioned in previous reviews, is that the chronology is confusing. The first few pages feel like you are brushing off cobwebs and pushing aside tropical leaves to enter this exotic world. So we are instantly transported by the power of her language into the scene. However, as she takes you further into the story, you feel a little suffocated by the detail and towards the end, bored. It feels as if she can't bring herself to get to the point, and justifies this by saying, well all good stories are told for the sake of the story, not for what happens. Fair enough. And it is true that we already know part of the tragedy from the beginning and are teased instead with wanting to know "how" it happens. And Roy keeps us curious. But as a reader you still think - get to the point. I also had to re-read the first few chapters to re-work out who was who and where I was in the sequence of events. You could argue that what was undoubtedly a conscious decision not to run the plot chronologically was better than a linear narrative, but I personally got fed up with it. I thought that the description, imagery and playful word associations clouded over what could have been a fascinating insight into one of the major themes. However, there can be no doubt of Roy's superb talent for descriptive and atmospheric prose and her ability to write straight from the random consciousness of children, which she does extremely convincingly throughout the book. If it weren't for the shifting time line of the plot, and a couple of unanswered questions at the end, I would have given it 5.
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on 14 November 2014
I love this book but I didn't actually love it while reading it the first time! I remember being a bit confused and frustrated but once it was finished everything made sense and I suddenly couldn't stop thinking about the characters. The re-read was amazing when I could appreciate the foreshadowing and enjoy the language. I know I will read this a third time and maybe a fourth. Definitely a book worth sticking with. The characters will live in my head forever.
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on 27 January 2016
I'm an avid and eclectic reader but this is hands-down the best book I have ever read. Maybe not my favourite (as it is so painful) but close, and definitely the best and most magically writing I've ever encountered.

I was entranced by the prose from the first page. That would have been enough to keep me enraptured til the end but this book is masterful at every level:-

1. the characters are presented with such depth and humanity - even the characters with the most disgusting, villainous behaviour are shown to be, essentially, karmic results of, not just themselves, but of the conditions in which they and their fellow travellers are ensnared (which, the way I read it, was pretty much the point of it all?). The wide-eyed, almost A.A. Milne -like language used to describe the force of events from the perspective of children trying to make sense of it all makes it all the more heart rending. You so love and feel for the Ambassador S. Insekt and her brother, empathise and relate to her mother and, at least most of, the family that the chain of events, happening in a world so physically and culturally different from most of ours, seems intensely personal.

2. I personally feel this book should be mandatory reading for ANY history class. History is so often presented as a dry serious of "facts" from the conquerors perspective. But it's not. It affects all of us deeply and personally in ways we are, at best, completely unaware of. This book is set in a particular post-colonial culture but it could be anywhere. And at no time does the author lecture or give a side-bar of historical "facts". The facts are there. The history is there. Not just "relevant" but there, in your face, all around you.. immersing you and suffocating you at times. The way the author was able to WEAVE (an overused metaphor for plots but here it actually applies) such large forces into the tiny lives of such a few makes it something you can't put down. Even though early on you have a very good idea of how it will all end, you have no idea how the journey will take you there.

I'm no literary critic/expert/scholar but I can't praise this book enough.
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