Noontide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera

noontide toll


Noontide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera

Sri Lankan fiction

Source – review copy


I opened up the pathway of the heart
The flowers died embittered from the start
That night I crossed the bridge of sighs and I surrender

I looked back and glimpsed the outline of a boy
His life of sorrows now collapsing into joy
And tonight the stars are all aligned and I surrender

My mother cries beneath a southern sky and I surrender

I choose a David Slyvian lyric I surrender from his Dead bees on a cake album the somber mood is a bit like the book

Tonight I’m back with third book from this years DSC south asian prize shortlist and last before we announce the winner of shadow DSC prize , we managed to read all the books between us .Anyway back to Noontide Toll , I’ve long been a fan of Romesh Gunesekera ever since reef appeared on the Booker shortlist more than twenty years ago , this was also a book I had looked forward to reading , even thou it had taken a while for me to get to it , as I had loved one of his earlier short story collection Monkfish moon is my favourite book by him .I have reviewed him before his book The prisoner of paradise is also here

In the Tsunami of 2004 , the Galle cricket stadium was destroyed .Obviously , that was not all .Up and down the coast , thirty thousand people lost their lives .Whole towns in the south disappeared .The devastation was a bad as the war .Maybe only half as many people died or a third , but all in a day rather than over thirty years of human madness

Of course there was the damage of Tsunami as well as the civil war .as in the opening of the story shoot .

Noontide toll is one of those short story collections that could also be called a novel very easily it follows a collection of trips and people connected to a van driver called Vasantha , as he goes about his business as a driver and van , he is hired by various people and as we see them coming and going .This follows life returning to normal , if that is the word after the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka .The war saw the north trying to be a separate state from the south as the population in the north the Tamils formed a small percentage of the island and were always the underdogs .Anyway if the course of the book Vasantha starts in the south , in fact the stories is in two halves the first being the south and then as with the stories the second half is the north , seeing him visiting libraries destroyed by the war .elsewhere the past of britain is visited as some one goes to see Leonard Woolf’s house .

I hadn’t had any people from Holland in my van before .I liked these two .They might have been diplomats or from some funding agency , but they didn’t talk much .On our journey up ,I don’t think they said more than a dozen words each .But already they have picked up some local terms .

from the opening story folly, maybe title has more meaning ! but it sees the van taking people come to give money after the civil war .

I for one was shocked at the time there wasn’t more reported on the violent end of the Sri Lanka civil war , which saw the government after a number of years of Tamil tiger actions in the mid 2000 , finally launch an all out attack on the north which saw the fall of the Tamil tigers , but also 200,000 people displaced by this violent end to the conflict .I imagine for Romesh this was a hard book to write and get right , not be too one way or another but even as we find out in the book Vasantha could be any of us , he is an average Joe and even he can see how wrong near the end of the book what had happened in the final years of the civil war and the deep scars that are still there just under the surface ,possibly waiting to explode again ! As we spoke about this book , I was tuck by a point Lisa said about how easily forgotten events like this are and how some people may have not even been fully aware of what happened their .

Have you read any books by Romesh Gunesekera ?

The prisoner of paradise by Romesh Gunesekera

Romesh Gunesekera is a Sri Lankan born writer ,he has written five books previously including the booker shortlisted Reef ,he is currently writer in residence for the charity first story .I ‘ve had Romesh’s books on my mind since last summer I borrow his book the match and never got round too reading it before it needed being back at the library but knew I wanted to read him as I had enjoy Reef and his debut the short story collection monkfish moon a short story collection in fact one of my favourite short story collections .So at christmas when he did one of the BBC Radio three essays in honour of Dickens and he talked about this book and how in a little ways it was influenced by dickens.Then next day it dropped on my doorstep from Bloomsbury if ever I was told to read a book it was this one .It seemed right to do it the day before dickens birthday ,also it was a change of subject from the early books of his I d read as it is a historic novel where the other I d read had been set in the present or recent past .

THE book is set in 1825 in Mauritius ,we meet Lucy Gladwell a typical Romesh character a young person who is in the middle of changes in her life like Triton in Reef Lucy has had a change this one sees her going to her aunt and uncle as she is an Orphan and has come to escape looming poverty ,another dickens connection how many orphans do we meet in dickens that go live with family good or bad .She is 19 years old but in our modern eyes she is a lot younger than that in her world view ,anyway as the story unfolds she is dazzled by this wonderful island. This island is a melting pot of africa and india with people from all over the place there ,as with most islands like this tend to be a little different to the life she is used to in the uk .and also slow to change to the modern world .

“Ananas,ananas” ,and tipped forward a basin of jagged sweet smelling yellow fruit .George Huyton wielded his cane with both hands.Get away with you .Out .Out two young brown boys dodged him.

Lucy sees her uncle and minutes later he does this that sets tone for the book .

As we she her Aunt Betty and Uncle George live in a island full of people from round the world but her uncle has the bigotry of a ruling class .later we see Lucy as she falls for a young man from Ceylon (Sri Lanka now ).This is man Don Lambodar isn’t her openly bigoted uncle first choice to say the least .Else where away from the Island slave are rebelling and things are happening in the uk people are rioting ,in this time it took weeks for this news to slowly seep through drop by drop as we see tension on the island grow between the plantation owners and workers and slaves ,all this comes to the head as disaster hits the island .Romesh is the master of description the island comes to life through his carefully written descriptions of flowers and food .But the main theme of this book is freedom what is it who has it are the all prisoners as they are held on the island and also to a set of rules to who they are and how they act ,as the world outside the island is seeing this change due to Peterloo riots that had happened six-years earlier but is just soaking through to the island and People like william Wilberforce .Lucy see this all through her innocent eyes and lets you draw your own conclusion which is the same as her becomes as the story develops .

Have you read his books ?

March 2023


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