The Guardian reports:
Arundhati Roy is to return to fiction writing, 10 years after winning Booker prize with her first novel, The God of Small Things. According to an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency, Roy said she would "stagnate" as a writer if she were to continue to publish only non-fiction....
Following her Booker win and the monumental success of The God of Small Things, Roy has spent the last decade writing non-fiction and championing grassroots activism as a social and environmental activist; her protest against the Narmada valley dam project in 2002 saw her imprisoned for a day and fined for contempt of court.
I read The God of Small Things before it won the Booker, and found it not quite execrable - as Carmen Callil famously called it - but certainly mawkish and overwritten. ("In the dappled sunlight filtering through the dark green trees, Ammu watched Velutha lift her daughter effortlessly as though she was [sic] an inflatable child, made of air. As he tossed her up and she landed in his arms, Ammu saw on Rahel's face the high delight of the airborne young.")
Ms Roy's non-fiction shows the same qualities and undeniably is execrable, so we should welcome the news of its supersession. Ian Buruma wrote a splendid review, entitled concisely and aptly "The Anti-American", in The New Republic of two of Ms Roy's volumes of social criticism in 2002, and I'll quote a snatch of it:
Roy showed a fondness in her novel for overlush imagery and showy stylistic flourishes. The same thing is true in her essays, where her literary mannerisms often obscure understanding. The text is pockmarked with flip haiku-like clichés of the following kind: "My world has died. And I write to mourn its passing." (This is about India's development of the nuclear bomb.) Or this tired old dictum: "One country's terrorist is too often another's freedom fighter." There is also the constant hyperbole, which actually weakens the power of language. Privatization, Roy writes, is a "process of barbaric dispossession on a scale that has few parallels in history." Really? On the same topic: "What is happening to our world is almost too colossal for human comprehension to contain. But it is a terrible, terrible thing." Well, perhaps it is, but this judgment does little to help my own human comprehension of international economics. And if we are really dealing with matters outside human understanding, then human reason is obviously an inadequate tool, so why bother to write an essay at all?
It doesn't help either that Roy adopts the patronizing tone of a tour guide for schoolchildren: "Allow me to shake your faith. Put your hand in mine and let me lead you through the maze." And her attempts to find a literary expression for her contempt of American capitalism are equally childish. America is likened to Rumpelstiltskin with "a bank account heart" and "television eyes" and a "Surround Sound stereo mouth which amplifies his voice and filters out the sound of the rest of the world, so that you can't hear it even when it's shouting (or starving or dying) and King Rumpel is only whispering, rolling his r's in his North American way."
This seems to me to get to the heart of Ms Roy's message. She's a bad and twee writer. "As the first year of the new millennium rushes to a close," she writes in The Algebra of Infinite Justice, 2002, p. 232, "one wonders - have we forfeited our right to dream? Will we ever be able to re-imagine beauty? Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow, amazed blink of a new-born gecko in the sun, or whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear - without thinking of the World Trade Center and Afghanistan?"
The point of the question is to compare 9/11 to the war in Afghanistan, which Ms Roy believed was arbitrary aggression, because: "From all acccounts, it will be impossible to produce evidence (of the sort that would stand scrutiny in a court of law) to link bin Laden to the 11 September attacks." With the politics of Noam Chomsky matched to the sensibilities of Mabel Lucie Attwell, Arundhati Roy's raging credulity will doubtless sell as profitably as ever.