My book of the year: The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy

Karishma Jobanputra, KettleMag, Meena Kandasamy, gypsy goddess review
Written by karishmaj

Meena Kandasamy’s The Gypsy Goddess, published this year, has been on my reading list for a good few months but those nineteenth century novels for my English module just wouldn’t allow me venture beyond Dickens or Austen. The moment Christmas started though, I put aside Daniel Deronda, which I was only a hundred pages into, and picked up one of the most anticipated books of 2014.

Yet, despite being my book of the year, The Gypsy Goddess is not an easy or pleasant read. It is extraordinarily touching because it is so brutal. It is about agricultural Dalit workers in south India and is about, amongst other things, oppression, politics and violence. It is so much more than a pleasant read, it is extraordinarily challenging on so many levels and it is this that makes it my book of 2014.

An unconventional style of storytelling and narrative

The novel isn’t immediately easy to get into. It doesn’t dive into a story, but is instead a narrative from Kandasamy. There is a question and answer section, and we, as the reader, are directly addressed. It’s certainly a different style and therefore not instantly immersive, which Kandasamy addresses. She ends by cursing these new post-modern writers and new styles, and calls herself out on her own alliteration.

It takes a little getting used to, but it is brilliantly refreshing. This straddling of the boundary between authorial comment and fictional narrative forced me to challenge the real power of a conventional narrative. Words were all the more powerful and more real because it becomes a joint venture between reader and writer.

Blunt and descriptive

What makes the novel so memorable is the contrast between a factual tone and lyrical description-both of which are equally touching. A factual recount of those who perished in a fire is crushing, as are the elegiac descriptions of the fire itself. It’s no surprise that Kandasamy is also a poet, and the contrast between these styles makes the brutal details so memorable. 

With difficult subject matter and a different narrative style, this a novel that is both challenging and challenges. Challenging because it is difficult to read such violently emotive prose, and it forces us to challenge what is really required to make an effective narrative and how overvalued a conventional style of storytelling really is.

More than memorable 

This is certainly a compelling novel in all aspects. It is not a quick, fun, beach read. It is a serious tale, throwing up the themes of poverty, hierarchy, oppression and corruption. Not to be taken lightly, it will force serious questions and extraordinarily strong emotions. 

What makes it my book of the year is that the narrative style and brutal subject matter create impact which cannot be forgotten. Words have clearly been carefully chosen and this works with the collective voice of the community during the second section of the book. This all allows for The Gypsy Goddess to be hauntingly memorable –  which is the mark of seriously special literature.