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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

In the cracks of history

Arundhati Roy’s first novel since The God of Small Things is both mischievous and outraged, argues Gillian Beer

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99)

Twenty years ago Arundhati Roy produced a first novel, The God of Small Things, in which caste and place controlled a tightlywoven and tragic love story whose cadences drew on south Indian speech. That won the Booker Prize and became a great bestseller, selling six million copies worldwide. Since then Roy has been engaged in political activism in her native country, always a thorn in the side of the Indian establishment that once fêted her. She has watched her country’s turn to Hindu nationalism with horror, and it seemed as though the injustices she exposed in her non-fiction might permanently divert her from novels. But it has turned out not to be so. Her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is larger, more complicated, more multilingual, more challenging as a reading experience than The God of Small Things, and no less immersing.

This intricately layered and passionate novel, studded with jokes and with horrors, has room for satire and romance, for rage and politics and for steely understatement. It’s a world where laconic asides destabilise our comfortable assumptions. The entire Indian subcontinent and its conflicted history over the past 70 years (and before that) are drawn into the descriptions. So are individual people in all their variety.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Martha Gill and Helen Pidd examine the election chances of the three main political parties. Wheatcroft explores the Tories’ remarkable ability to rise from the ashes and assert dominance, Gill questions why the Lib Dem revival isn’t quite getting off the ground and Pidd examines Labour’s prospects after poor performances in the recent council and mayoral elections. Also in this issue: Christine Ockrent asks if France’s new President Emmanuel Macron can charm the parts of France that didn’t initially vote for him, AC Grayling assesses whether the rise and rise of drone warfare warrants a new ethical code for conflict and Francine Stock explores whether Pixar can continue to captivate modern audiences.