The place is Ceylon, the time the 1930s. Set amid tea plantations, decay and corruption, this sinuous, subtle, surprising novel is a masterly evocation of time and place, of colonialism and the backwash of empire. It is the story of an embittered Ceylonese lawyer, Sam Obeysekere himself a product of empire - 'obey' by name and by nature - and of a family that once had wealth and influence but starts to crack open when Sam's charismatic father dies leaving gambling debts, an ex-beauty of a wife, an unstable daughter and an inadequate son. But the writing has been on the wall for a generation, ever since another sibling died in his cot- And at the heart of the novel is the Hamilton Case, a 'White Mischief' murder scandal that shakes the upper echelons of the island's society. Sam's involvement in it makes his name but paradoxically ensures that he will never achieve his ambition. A miracle of delicacy and restraint, full of volte faces, and narrated with perfect pitch in a voice that catches both the tragedy and comedy of their situation, this is a gripping, nuanced tale of the end of an era, suffused with 'the unbearable thought that everything might have turned out differently'.
Being a devotee of the author's other works, I was prepared for the lyricism and history.
How cleverly the plot wove around characters in time and space. The listener could literally see the unreliable narrators glisten for an instant and then notice that their stories in fact clashed.
Historical truth is such a flawed idea. This novel demonstrates how the individuals make their own, egotistical marks..and mistakes.
Perhaps the author is right. The taste for Nostalgic Exotic Tales in Ex Imperial Territories has sustained a great many "successful" novelists rather for their exoticism than their skill.
This monsoon tale is not one of them.