Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not So Sunny

Will be posting a review of Roma Tearne's Mosquito shortly; meanwhile, thought I'd resurrect an earlier review of a book by another Sri Lankan author. The unedited version appeared in a TimeOut Mumbai issue of April last year.

THE MATCH Romesh Gunesekera

Meet the ironically-named Sunny Fernando, protagonist of Romesh Gunesekera’s new novel, yet another alienated, disaffected hero trying to find his place in the world

Gunesekera shows us Sunny’s plight at different ages, in different situations: first, as a Sri Lankan teenager in Manila developing a hopeless crush; then studying in England, drifting from one discipline and attraction to another; later, in Sri Lanka again to discover his roots; and also as a career photographer and a married man, with wife and child in tow.

All along, Sunny doesn’t quite fit in, at odds with the world and what’s expected of him: “It could have been a play, Sunny thought, in which he had forgotten all his lines.” Finally, his dilemma is sought to be resolved in the closing section, when he witnesses an India-Sri Lanka cricket match at the Oval -- a structural echo of an earlier match in Manila -- in the process arriving at a truce between his needs and responsibilities. The “match”, then, refers not just to cricket, but also to the fit between Sunny’s abilities and the world’s demands.

For the most part, Gunesekera’s prose is cool and elegant, and he pays careful attention to even minor characters. The problem, however, is that the book has an oddly unmoored quality to it, as though Sunny’s rootlessness had infected the whole. Protagonists are expected to demonstrate energy, whether turned outward or in, and Sunny’s listlessness simply fails to grip.

Worth your while? A character from one of the tales in James Joyce’s Dubliners was memorably described as living “at a distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glasses.” Unfortunately, that’s something you could also say about The Match as a whole.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Curious: Are you reading the new Ondaatje? If you are, I look forward to the review (as compared with The English Patient, that is).