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 wita 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.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.87(d)|
About the Author
Michelle de Kretser was born in Colombo to a Sri Lankan family which emigrated to Australia when she was fourteen. She took an MA at the Sorbonne and worked for several years as an editor. She now lives in Melbourne. Her first novel, The Rose Grower, was published in 1999.
Hometown:Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Date of Birth:November 11, 1957
Place of Birth:Colombo, Sri Lanka
Education:B.A. (Hons), 1979; Maîtrise-ès-lettres, 1982
Read an Excerpt
'I always made it my business, at least, to know the part thoroughly'
A Wise Child
A name is the first story that attaches itself to a life. Consider mine: Stanley Alban Marriott Obeysekere. It tells of geography, history, love and uncertainty. I was born on an island suspended midway on the golden trade route between East and West - a useful bauble, fingered and pocketed by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in turn. In 1902, when I was born, Sir Alban Marriott was Governor and he agreed to be my godfather. How could he refuse? He had been in thrall to my mother ever since she sent him the skin of a leopard she had shot, along with a note. I shall call on you between five and six this evening. The skin is for the small blue reception room, which is ideally suited to fornication and whatnot. Her name was Maud and she was a great beauty. Also a first-rate shot. In Scotland she had stalked deer with the Prince of Wales; his performance, she reported, was mediocre. He presented her with a brooch fashioned from an eagle's talon mounted on silver and onyx. Mater dismissed it as monumentally obvious and palmed it off on her stewardess in lieu of a tip on her voyage home.
My father insisted on calling me Stanley, although my mother hated the name. I have often pondered the significance of Pater's uncharacteristic resolve. His father, too, was a Stanley, so he might simply have been affirming family tradition. On the other hand, might his assertion of my paternal provenance betray some anxiety about it? My mother had a certain reputation. It was alleged that she once swam in a jungle pool wearing only herbloomers, even though there were gentlemen and snakes present. Half of Colombo society followed the lead of Lady Marriott, who was stout and afflicted with shingles, in cutting her dead. Mater said Stanley was fit only for a peon, so it was just as well my initials spelt Sam. These days there is no one left to remember that I was ever called anything else.
Stanley Alban Marriott Obeysekere: between the names that define me as my father's child falls the shadow of an Englishman who didn't serve a second term as Governor. Shortly after his death eight years ago a package from a firm of London solicitors found its way to my desk. It contained a small murky oil painting of a large and largely unclad female gathering flowers and berries against a backdrop of broken marble columns in a woodland glade. The artist - quite unknown to the works of reference I have consulted - signed himself Tom Baltran. The executor's letter accompanying the painting explained that the Baltrans and the Marriotts were cousins. Moreover, it continued, the Hon. Thomas was descended on the distaff side from the first Dukeof St Albans, Charles II's illegitimate son by Nell Gwynne. The artist's hefty nymph was held, in family lore, to represent the orange-seller, but this was purely speculative. Sir Alban, wrote his solicitor, was most anxious for this painting, the gem of his small collection, to pass to you. He retained the warmest memories of his years in Ceylon, and often referred to happy times spent in the company of your mother.
An ambiguous legacy, wouldn't you say? I keep the painting in a cabinet, along with Sir Alban's other gift, a silver eggcup presented on the occasion of my christening. Now and then I set these objects before me and study them. An egg, a mistress, a bastard son: their message seems unequivocal. But the testimony of signs is unreli-able. Within minutes I have reasoned that an eggcup is a wholly conventional gift on the part of a godparent, and that the Hon. Thomas's daub points only to the ill-judged sentimentality of a nonagenarian. The argument prevails for a brief interval; then doubt creeps in again. These sessions always end the same way: I cross to my mirror where reassurance waits in the solid evidence of my flesh.
If you wish to ascertain a man's lineage, read his face not his birth certificate.Myskin is as darkas myfather's, our branch of the Obeysekeres being famously black. Like Pater, I am of average height and inclined to portliness in age. We share a high forehead, thick, springing hair, a curved nose and assertive ears. We are not handsome men. But we have presence. Whereas Sir Alban, as he appears in my parents' photograph album, is tall and hollow-chested, with pointed features and an entirely unconvincing moustache. He clasps his left wrist in his right hand, holding himself together.
By now it will be apparent that my pen is not constrained by decorum. I have always set great store by the truth, a virtue not usually prized in my profession. But it was my ability to see accurately and to speak the truth, without concern for convention or fear of reprisal, that made my name in a different sense. The very notoriety of the Hamilton case has seen it shrouded in the fog of rumour, conjecture and misinformation that passes for analysis in the drawing rooms of this country. In these pages I intend to set down the facts of the matter at last.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An intriguing languid and laconic wafting aside with extended forefinger the veil over high society colonial days with the ensuing isolation engendered following independence. This very put downable books apparent climax drifts by until eventually on the last page, we discover the deeper purpose. An exploration of how intangible is truth and the vectors of presumption and prejudice we each bring to bear on it.
Set in Ceylon in the 1930s, Sam Obeysekere the narrator of this book is a pompous little lawyer, a product of Empire. His life is a disappointment to him. He makes his name with a notorious local murder which has caused a scandal, but even that does not provide him with any satisfaction.
I picked this book because it was part of b&n.com's bargin books (which I pig out on at least once a year). What a pleasant surprise!
The writing style drew me in, first, because it is a relaxed sort of narrative, but the dry wit of the initial "author" kept me reading. And then the twist: the Hamilton Case is what the first author, writing in the first person, meant to write about; but the second author, writing in the third person, has to tell the WHOLE tale.
You have to read it to the end to find out why the first-person author suddenly stopped the manuscript and an outsider picked up the narrative.
This was great. I'm torn between sharing it with my reading friends and risk never seeing it again, or just hoarding it for myself.
I must admit, i expected fine things from the Hamilton Case. Intrigued by the notion of mystery and murder, i leapt into the book full of anticipation. Imagine my surprise at the decided lack of emphasis on the title issue, 'The Hamilton Case'. Forcing myself not to skip some of the more mundane passages, i found myself bewildered as to the lack of attention the case was given. I must say that i found myself put-out at the misleading title, and disappointed in my aspirations to an afternoon involved in speculation and investigation. Although i must say that i enjoyed Sam's drily amusing desciptions of characters in his life, particularly his childhood, i found myself unable to warm to him, or indeed take much interest in his life. I found myself finishing the book with the determination to find closure, but little else. I found it depressing, and discomforting, and certainly not an enjoyable read.
I really liked this one. It was different from anything that I had ever read before, especially from the South Asian fiction genre. Her descriptions are unique and stay with you a long time. I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of colonial life in Ceylon. It reminded me of stories my grandfather would share of growing up in India and Britain. While the book does drag in parts, overall it was an extremely enjoyable and informative read.
De Kretser writes very beautifully. No argument here. But her poesy is in the service of a dreary, relentlessly depressing story. The 'hero' here, a stand in for an 'upstanding' colonialized man, is a well-rounded lifeless bore. (Gee, thanks for fleshing him out!) His family life is filled with tragedy, humiliation and failure. Following his story is tedious as it is painful. And while it may allow for 'penetrating' insight into the Sinhalese vs. Tamil conundrum that still plagues the island, guess what: write an essay about it. Don't belabor your novel with this heady stuff, if you can't build a cogent through-line of plot and likeable character. A Suitable Boy, for example, does precisely this: You can read and enjoy Vikram Seth's long, thorough chapters about Indian labor history, because there are characters -- likeable characters and villians -- that you care about. The Hamilton Case is just filled with people you feel sorry for. The novel's strongest point -- the mystery that title references -- takes up perhaps 30 pages of the book (and I'm being generous). And worse: the mystery surfaces and then suddenly reappears at the end -- our payoff for having suffered through such dreary, plotless meandering. That payoff is a pretty nifty meditation on mystery and the way we can shift blame and guilt. And if you extend that analysis, De Krester may want us to wonder who shaped her hero 'Obey' and his family. Are the english to blame? Or his parents? Or the spirit world? But frankly, after so much suffering through this ambling horrorshow, it is hard to care. I'm just mad (can you tell?) I wasted a few hours reading this.
This novel was truly a pleasure to read. It is beatifully written. It reminds me of a great novel that one is forced to read for school and then can't put down. I actually re-read the short 2 page opening chapter numerous times. I was dazzled by the use of language and the way the author introduced the main characters and themes in such a vivid and unforgetable way. I was hooked from the start.