It’s been such a long time since I’ve done a book review, so consider this an official return to all things bookish! I had heard lots about Roys writing before I got this book as her debut novel, The God of Small Things was very popular. I haven’t read that yet but as I enjoyed The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I’ll definitely be reading her other novels.
‘At magic hour; when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke . . .’
So begins The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s incredible follow-up to The God of Small Things. We meet Anjum, who used to be Aftab, who runs a guesthouse in an Old Delhi graveyard and gathers around her the lost, the broken and the cast out. We meet Tilo, an architect, who, although she is loved by three men, lives in a ‘country of her own skin’. When Tilo claims an abandoned baby as her own, her destiny and that of Anjum become entangled as a tale that sweeps across the years and a teeming continent takes flight . .
What I enjoyed:
- Writing Style – I really liked the way Roy has a heady poetic prose, which transports you into the novel. All her description is so vivid and believable.
- History – As I am Indian myself, the vast history and the multiple angles which are explored within the novel really interested me. The novel follows various characters through the civil unrest and issues happening within India and Pakistan, both in the past, during partition and up to present day. It certainly opened my eyes to more of the history behind these key points in Indian history, and I would highly recommend reading it to gain more of an insight into this period. Although as a work of fiction it cannot be taken as the complete truth.
- Heartbreaking but honest – I finished this book feeling conflicted, on the one hand I was glad I had read it but if you’re looking for a happy story then this isn’t the one for you. Rather than providing a neatly rounded up story with no loose ends, Roy leaves it deliberately open. It is gritty at many points and painfully honest about the many social issues within India and the discrimination which different marginalised communities living within its borders face. However I also felt a sense of hope, as all the characters found a place and community with each other which was quite beautiful.
What could have been improved:
- Not character driven- I would say I’m usually a reader who enjoys character driven narratives, with a heavy focus on a protagonist. I’m sure I’m not alone in that preference, however at times, this book felt a bit too long winded and perhaps introduced too many characters which meant it was hard for them to be well developed and for a reader to really care for all of them. I enjoyed the sections written in the perspective of Anjum and Tilo the most, so I was quite bored when there was a large section told by characters who weren’t either of them. I would have much preferred had the novel been solely told through these two perspectives.
- Lengthy- The novel easily could have been shorter, while the scope and what Roy was trying to achieve with this novel is admirable, it did drag on at some points and I feel like it could have been more concise.
Overall I would rate this novel 3 out of 5 stars. Anjum was an endearing character and I felt for her the most, which really made the novel stand out to me but there were certain elements I think were unnecessary. It is a very ambitious novel, which is perhaps the biggest flaw.
Until next time,