This book kept me up all night the evening I finished it. My mind was racing. I couldn’t sleep. With the whole thing in my head, I was struck and overwhelmed by what it accomplished, what it aimed for and achieved. I had to go back through it, skimming it backwards and forwards, trying to see how it was put together, how it did the things that it did.
It’s a beautiful, tender, affecting novel that is bigger in the end than it seems moment-by-moment (and it seems exhaustingly ambitious in nearly every moment). It is about apocalyptic versus cyclical time, about east and west, about class and race, about rules and tolerance and social evils.
It is also a very Hindu book about a Christian family that traces out how both groups are trapped in boxes. It is anti-orthodoxy: the most Christian of the Christians comes off worse than anyone. After destroying everything and everyone around her, she’s worried not that she shits but that others will see the shit she leaves. Literally. Although he’s less hateful than the former nun, it is one of the most orthodox (if unwillingly so) of the Hindus who reveals the secret that initiates the novel’s central tragedy.
And then the finale…. Death is conquered by a Karma Sutra. In a sex scene that is unreal and encyclopaedic but also genuine and restorative, the world and the central characters are brought back to life in a mythic non-myth, in an eternal now. Two conceptions of the universe are brought to focus in an intensely pathetic moment: one conception is linear, progressive and apocalyptic, the other circular, resolutely physical and preoccupied with the present. The linear apocalypse loses.
The whole things is extraordinary and difficult and beautiful. And I’ve not yet said a word about the ways Roy shows she’s read Faulkner.
This is a major book and one to come back to.
June, Pondicherry, India