This character study-murder mystery mashup (321 pages) was published in November of 2005 by Back Bay Books. The book takes you to 1930s Ceylon (Sri Lanka). David read The Hamilton Case and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
A flamboyant beauty who once partied with the Prince of Wales and who now, in her seventh decade, has “gone native” in a Ceylonese jungle.
A proud, Oxford-educated lawyer who unwittingly seals his own professional fate when he dares to solve the sensational Hamilton murder case that has rocked the upper echelons of local society. A young woman who retreats from her family and the world after her infant brother is found suffocated in his crib. These are among the linked lives compellingly portrayed in a novel everywhere hailed for its dazzling grace and savage wit – a spellbinding tale of family and duty, of legacy and identity, a novel that brilliantly probes the ultimate mystery of what makes us who we are.
De Kretser’s accomplished second novel (after 2000’s The Rose Grower ), set in the author’s native Sri Lanka in the years before its independence in 1948, is as much a haunting character study as it is an elusive murder mystery and a deep exploration of colonialism. At the heart of the story is Sam Obeysekere, a brilliant Ceylonese prosecutor and perfect English gentleman—who isn’t, of course, English.
Born into a privileged but unstable family—his “Pater” intentionally squanders their wealth; his “Mater” sleeps around, smashes expensive crystal and feels a “massive indifference” to her son; and his beloved sister seems bent on self-destruction—Sam, as an adult, focuses on his young son and his career. By all accounts, he’s prospering, able to take his place beside the island’s ruling class of Brits, Dutch burghers and Portuguese. But when he offers to help solve the murder of an English tea grower shot dead in the jungle, Sam makes a “central mistake” that destabilizes his life—and, in a way, the English-dominated life of his whole “mongrel” nation.
De Kretser’s self-deluding protagonist will no doubt remind readers of the butler in The Remains of the Day : it’s a sharp portrayal of assimilation that she manages to make complex and even poignant (“Are we to become a nation capable of talking only to itself, a lunatic on the world stage?”). But Sam is his own unique and problematic self, and like everything else in this lush, uneasy world, from the secondary characters to the ghost-haunted jungle, he is capable of shocking. De Kretser’s fine, brooding, mischievous style is sure to captivate fans of serious literary fiction.
QUOTE — Michelle De Kretser
Wanna help us spread the word? If you like this page, please share with your friends.
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.