The beauty of The God of Small Things wasn't just in the quality of Arundhati Roy's descriptive powers. It was in the intimacy, her ability to go dig into the deepest thoughts, hopes and dreams with engaging, understanding, insight and compassion, finding light in darkness. It was deeply personal and truly universal.
You can still see glimpses of that magic 20 years later in The MInistry of Utmost Happiness but the problem with the book is her need to showcase her hard-earned perspective on broader political themes. The imbalance of her extreme-left positions that you see in her non-fiction soak into this book, leading to a black and white world of the oppressed masses fighting against the big bad state with its military power. It is a perfectly legitimate perspective in non-fiction (where you can agree or disagree with her). However, it ends up being the greatest flaw in this work of fiction, robbing it of nuance, and of the ability to see human beings from multiple, often conflicting, points of view that can elevate fiction into art, and turning it into a unidimensional polemic.
Ultimately, it ends up being the kind of book that we would have raved about as a debut. Great writing, ambitious in its scope, but lacking true wisdom, selective in its empathy, ideological in its characterisation. Which is a pity because in the first section where she talks of the journey of the boy Aftab into the hijra Anjum in the shadow of the Jama Masjid, she shows all of the skill and understanding that makes The God of Small Things a once in a lifetime masterpiece.
This on the other hand is a good read, but one that struggles to make a broader political statement, where the politics overwhelms the writing and ultimately diminishes it. It takes much much more skill to write powerful political fiction. Arundhati Roy would be well served to read The Feast of the Goat as a reminder of what the genre can and should aspire to.