Not for the first time, one observes how much more meaningful is description of horror in the hands of the fiction writer than in those of the statistician. From this point of view, the novel has won. I feel impelled to read about the history of Sri Lanka, about which I am completely ignorant.
I did, however, abandon the novel half way through. Ondaatje’s descriptions of the setting are all one would expect of a skilled writer who is himself Sri Lankan. But the story line is almost non-existent, at least at the half way point of the book, and the main character both bored and irritated me. Maybe Ondaatje can’t do girls?
All in all, this one gets a gong and I can’t say that I’m tempted to pick up anything else by him. Is that too negative of me?
Added later: I mistrust novels that have too much potential for filler. This one has two filler angles, one being the Sri Lankan wars and the other the details of reconstruction/identification of a skeleton. If these issues take up two-thirds of a book, it means that you don’t need a robust story or even characters. Well, you do, actually. But these sorts of novels seem to hope that the reader won’t notice that. Others may have been adequately beguiled, but I wasn’t.