Friday, March 29, 2013

There is something I have to tell you by Madhubashini Ratnayake

 To write a long novel needs skill, dedication, commitment and most of all a good long story to tell. Certainly Madhubashini Ratnayake has proved that she has enough of the first three and the Gratiaen judges thought she has enough of the last component, after all they awarded her the Gratiaen Prize for 2011 awarded in 2012 but I am not sure that she succeeded.
There is Something I have to Tell You is a fabulous title. The story is woven around a few characters, the walauwe son, the servant's son, the samanera living in the temple next door, the girl next door, the university rich kid, the revolutionaries, etc etc. Nothing we haven't read about before. But a good story can take an old theme and make you see it with new eyes. A good story can weave a fabric around your imagination filled with the colours and sounds of the writer's skill. Has Madhubashini Ratnayake done that? I am not sure. There is a story certainly, and it is a familiar story, nothing unusual, it talks about all the issues we as a country have gone through. But perhaps as happens to many first novelists they want to talk about everything that has happened in our entire history. If they could bring Vijaya's arrival into a modern novel as well, they would. So the novel is set during a time of post independence but there is constant reference to the pre-independence struggle as well as the ills of colonialism. Then we have the lean years, the JVP struggle and the LTTE (not dwelt on much but referred to). We have Sinhala nationalism, and Sinhala chauvinism, and the sane voices that to my mind didn't hold true. It was too much a nod to political correctness a token reminder of how things should be. But despite my misgivings and my holding back of praise, it is a novel that I would recommend one reads.
We have expected much from Madhubashini Ratnayake, she has given us some collections of stories that have received good reviews, so I was expecting a wonderful novel. It is a novel that could have been wonderful but is not. It could have done with much editing. In fact editing down. Five lines cut out of every ten, would have made it stronger and tighter and faster. It could have done with a spellcheck as well. It was a novel that I took a long time to finish and I would lose interest in it half way, which is not a good trait for a novel. It is certainly not an easy read. But I emphasise again, it is worth reading, because in my mind it deals with serious issues by a writer who is the backbone of the Sinhala middle class. . To me I saw the novel as a door into the writer's mind and others like her, of what they think of their own country and how they feel, truly feel about where their country is headed. She definitely has something to tell us but perhaps she could have done it better.

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