Never judge a book by its first 100 pages

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The opening line of Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the most exquisite sentence I have read. It’s magical in a way only Roy’s sentences can be. She writes:

At magic hour, when the sun is 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.

Beautiful.

But from there it kind of goes downhill. Anjum and her troupe don’t seem real enough. The old Delhi, meanwhile, feels too real, with sentences so edgy that you could feel them scrap against your hand if you tried. I find it trite, even unimaginative, which is a rather peculiar word to use for anything that Roy writes.

It lasts until around 100 pages. And then the book transforms itself. The Landowner enters the picture. And Tilo comes on board. Suddenly, Roy is talking not about old Delhi but people like Tilo and Musa, and it is with these fictional people, no doubt more familiar to her than Anjum and others, that she again writes the exquisite lines only she can write. These lines may occasionally pay the homage to that world of Macondo but they are characteristically Roy.

Just like the God of Small Things, the Ministry of Utmost Happiness is not an easy read. And it seems that it might have been quite difficult to write for Roy because it is a very political book, talking of the time and moments about which she obviously feels strongly. Yet, such is her mastery that her fury rarely breaks the surface that her words cast. She constructs her characters with a tenderness that makes this an achingly beautiful book about people, a few extraordinary and a few ordinary people. And then there are the lines like this:

The steel bubble floated on, past shanty towns and industrial swamps where the air was a pale mauve haze, past railway tracks packed thick with trash and lined with slums. Finally they arrived at their destination. The Edge. Where the countryside was trying, quickly, clumsily and tragically, to turn itself into the city.

Beautiful. And a proof that Roy, when she gets going, writes some of the best lines among contemporary writers.

Never judge a book by its first 100 pages

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