Lost in No Man's Land
Author: Romesh Gunesekera
Price: Rs 365
Publishing Date: 2006
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.