This book shows that Arundhati Roy’s gift for captivating stories has not diminished since The God of Small Things almost twenty years ago. Ministry is a witty, often spellbinding examination of India. It is political and frequently fiercely critical, although it often disguises its most savage burns with humor. Roy feels like an effortlessly talented writer, but this time around there are some structural issues that keep her novel from perfection. Ministry feels a bit unfocused. This is not to say every book must have a strict narrative that goes from point A to point B, but the way this book is set up makes it feel like it is constantly restarting itself. The first hundred pages feel like a novel on their own, except there isn’t any resolution because we still have three hundred pages to go. Roy keeps taking left turns to explore a new character or idea, and each section is dependent on how you respond to the new character or situation. Personally, I felt so captivated by the first hundred pages that I desperately wanted more. I wanted a novel that took those ideas and characters and expanded them to get the time I felt they deserved. Every diversion felt like it was taking me further away from what I wanted. And whenever the characters from the first hundred pages returned it felt dissatisfying because they had lost all narrative momentum.
Ministry is more like a collection of interconnected stories than a novel. While the result is certainly better than average, I can’t help wishing it had a little more focus.