11 July 2007

The Match

Lost in No Man's Land

Author: Romesh Gunesekera
Pages: 307
Price: Rs 365
Publishers: Bloomsbury
Publishing Date: 2006
Genre: Fiction

When I picked up The Match by author Romesh Gunesekara, I did so with considerable curiosity and expectations. Though I haven’t read any of his earlier works, I believe his debut book of short stories Monkfish Moon, published in 1992, became quite popular. Then two years later, he recieved a Booker nomination for his book Reef. From there on, I understand, the author’s works have evoked mostly mixed reactions.

His reputation as a writer aside, the fact that the book talks about cricket and how it helps the protagonist to reconnect to his past through the game, appeared interesting enough.
However, as I discovered, cricket is only a very small part of this novel and most of it is about the feeling of displacement and rootlessness that the protagonist goes through. The theme seems partily derived from the author's own life, who was born as a Sri Lankan, then spend some of his childhood in Manila (Philippines) and finally settled in England.

The novel essentially traces the difficult journey that its protagonist (Sunny) makes; right from his teenage days to the time he gets married and becomes a father. In many ways, Sunny suffers from a certain Hamlet-like state –both including inertia and confusion about his relationship with his parents.

The only time one really sees him excited is for an amateur game of cricket, which he plays along with his friends and father’s buddies. For Sunny and some other Sri Lankans based in Manila, cricket is a game that helps them stay connected to their roots and hence there’s a great deal of passion as they play it.

From there on, the novel goes into a completely different territory. It looks at Sunny’s feeling of displacement, his inability to cope with the standard demands of a career and marriage among other things.
Finally, it requires a high profile cricket match at Oval, between England and Sri Lanka, for him to grope back into his regular life ans make sense of it. Something as simple as cricket brings him face-to-face to a world that he loved but feared he had lost.
The author captures well Sunny’s turmoil and inability to find relevance to his displaced living. His sudden decision to visit Sri Lanka, even when it isn’t quite cleared of violence, mirrors a desperate urge to hold on to whatever is left of the past.
But having said that, the problems with his novel are manifold. Firstly, the prose slips at various places, with some shockingly inferior writing like the conversation quoted below;
'Yes, I’ll… get the guys going. My friend Junior wants to learn to’
‘Don’t forget the girl. What’s her name? Tarka?’
‘Tina? Yes, whatever. Anyway, she’ll be a great surprise. Keep her up your sleeve’

Also, there's a lot happening here but nothing's exciting enough. There is Sunny’s friend Ranil and mentor-guide Hector, who bring a semblance of hope to his life. But these parts just keep meandering. Then there’s the aspect of Sunny dropping all contact with his father, Lester, whom he blames for his mother’s sudden demise. Also, Gunesekera brings in the violence and terror that Sri Lanka and Manila are faced with from time-to-time to establish his connection with his past. Then there's an inane track of Sunny's childhood crush, whom he meets after many years at the Oval match.
None of this is wholly convincing.

While one can empathise with Sunny’s slow drift into abyss and the author’s effective portrayal of it, it ultimately ends up being painfully indulgent and sluggish. Certainly not for the one seeking thrill-a-minite, pulsating cricket drama.

-Sandhya Iyer


Qalandar said...

great review sandy! cricket and reading are two passions, and this book sounds like it combines both...

sandy said...

But Q, as I've said in the review, there's very less cricket in the novel.
It's primarily about the protagonist's search for identity and his desperate struggle to find his 'core' world.
Cricket is just one of his passions that enables him to reconnect to his past.

Qalandar said...

Hye at least it has a match at the Oval...

sandy said...

yeah...that it has :-) And there are several references to Sri Lankan cricketers. For example, the former Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga, who was emerging as a major force to reckon with at that time, is referred as 'a cunning guy', if I'm not mistaken.

The novel spans about 30-40 years and one of the devices Gunesekera uses to fast-forward the story is by using references of the time.

As you know, Sri Lanka witnessed their worst terror in 1996, six months prior to winning the world cup. All these aspects get covered in the novel, so it could well be worth your time.
Also, since you have been a part of so many worlds (India, Dubai, US), the theme of displacement might appeal to you :-)

Qalandar said...

True enough!

Speaking of displacement, would love to read your review of Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss...I have it but haven't read it; my sister read it and said it was fantastic...

日月神教-任我行 said...