This #FridayReads is a slight departure
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje isn’t a title you’re likely to find in the mystery section of your local book shop, but I’ll argue that it is a detective novel just the same…
Okay, I do admit to being weary of searching for Asian sleuth series … and Anil’s Ghost is set in Sri Lanka. Plus I’ve been eye-brow-deep in crime fiction of the noir-ish type for so many months that I’m craving a ‘palate-cleanser’ so different from my last dozen reads that it will send me back to my ‘moody sleuths’ with fresh appreciation.
And last but not least, I’m happy to add Anil’s Ghost as one of the three titles on my Asia list, so it won’t knock me off course in the 2014 Global Reading Challenge.
Besides, Michael Ondaatje, born in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, and now Canadian, has long been one of my favourite writers, so having argued him a place on my current reading list (despite the fact that he’s not exactly new-to-me, as per the Challenge guidelines), lets take a quick look at the book.
As usual I checked out a few old reviews, and found one I particularly enjoyed; it’s from the Austin Chronicle, May 2000. The reviewer, Amanda Eyre Ward, quite obviously shares my appreciation of Ondaatje’s writing.
In describing Michael Ondaatje’s style, her analogy is so apt, I must share:
If the average novel is a river, flowing cleanly from one bank to another, a Michael Ondaatje novel is a thunderstorm on a hot night, one of those storms that smells of smoke and lights your yard with blinding flashes. You’re not always sure what the hell is going on, and the lightning is hitting awful close to your house, but it’s so beautiful you can’t bear to go inside.
Some reviewers have described Ondaatje’s novels as ‘cryptic’, and his style as sometimes disconcertingly ‘elliptical’, referring to his extensive use of flashbacks; others feel that each book should come with a decoding app, but I agree whole-heartedly with the afore-mentioned reviewer who argues “for setting aside a Sunday, fixing up a cold gin-and-tonic, and wandering willingly into this lush thunderstorm of a novel.”
To continue with Ms. Eyre Ward as she sets up the story; Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje’s “poetic and messy masterpiece”:
[Anil’s Ghost] takes place in Sri Lanka, an island republic that evokes visions of tea plantations and Indian Ocean shorelines, but which has been torn apart since 1983 by an ethnic war between Buddhists and Hindus. Enter Anil, a Sri Lankan-born, Western-educated forensic anthropologist who has been asked to help identify the bones of war victims. When Anil discovers that one skeleton in an ancient burial site is, in fact, a recent victim, her search for the horrible truth hidden in her homeland begins.
I’d been saving this book for ‘later’ … didn’t expect ‘later’ to be 14 years on, but I’ve arrived at the perfect time and place to savour it, with an entire weekend ahead of me … now was that gin and tonic or icy chilled IPA?
Note – upon ‘Googling’ reviewer Amanda Eyre Ward, I discovered that she studied with William Kittredge, and is now a writer with at least five novels to her credit. Good on her!