Nihal de Silva writes his best book and then dies before finishing it. Readers will know that I am not a Nihal de Silva fan. I couldn't understand for the life of me why people were raving about The Road from Elephant Pass ( for me it was a romantic drivel that was too politically correct, completely unrealistic, badly written and an excuse for a little ornithological walk in the park). Ginirella while having a good premise was so badly written that I couldn't finish it. And then comes Arathi. What a book! The narrative shifts between the reality of a young hip advertising executive who purchases a used computer and discovers secret files within files. He manages to crack the code and read the content of the files. The book is presented with alternating chapters of the present and the past (which reveal the diary of a man involved in the gun running trade). They come to a head when the LTTE and crooked officers in the armed forces are both on the hunt for the computer, some stolen money stashed away, a young girl (Arathi) who may hold the key, and the young executive who finds himself in a situation way over his head. All the ingredients for a stunning thriller.
The prose is brutal - terse, tense, holding back no punches, Nihal has successfully infiltrated the mind of a young man who enters an unfamiliar world. Reading it in one go, from start to finish over a weekend the futileness of his death is rammed home continuously. You cannot escape it. Having appeared to have done his homework Nihal recreates a very realistic scenario set during the CFA. With not one reference to wild life he takes us on a fast paced urban journey of the hunter and the hunted. If there were any slip-ups it was that he used the outdated name for Dharmapala Mawatha (I had to ask someone where this Turret Road was?) which was the only indication to me (if I was not aware of his background) that he was someone of an older generation. His hero also used the term 'darling' a bit too liberally with almost everyone. Glossing over the actual part where hero and heroine fall in love (it seems to happen almost instantaneously and without choice) he does a fairly realistic portrayal of a young man in love. The darn book finishes at a crucial point. Vijitha Yapa has issued a challenge for someone to finish the story but to my mind I just cannot think of how it could possibly end. Possibly the only person who could do it would be David Blacker (author of A Cause Untrue). I do hope he takes up the challenge. As you know I am a sucker for covers and this one just does not do the book justice. It is washed out and boring. The way the book is designed is also confusing as there are hardly any breaks to indicate time jumps and situation changes. But those lapses are forgiven because the story line is so good. It was tiresome to give bad book reviews one after the other, so I am so glad that this Book fair purchase was utterly and totally worth it!