Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne.

The rear cover of this book reads...

When family tragedy strikes, Alice Fonseka, a dreamy, artistic child with a Singhalese mother and Tamil father, leaves the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. Unable to bear the injustice of what has happened, her family heads for England.

...That sounds promising I thought, a tale of an immigrant in London. Sadly Brixton Beach does not live up to it's promise. This novel is set half in Sri Lanka and half in London. This book was written in 2009 and has 408 pages. It is not until page 226 when Alice actually arrives in England. This story is a slow and poor read. There is nothing gripping about this tale, it lacks a core and has no bite. This book is very easy to put down and there is no mystery or conspiracy going on.

Brixton Beach is obsessed with art, colour and light. It is very shallow on immigrant culture. This story is rather sad and once Alice comes to London, this increasing sadness dominates this book. It just gets sadder and sadder. This is not a book to enjoy and is not really entertaining. It is simply a tale of increasing sadness and despair.

This novel has a bad structure. The book starts at the end and then develops from the beginning when Alice is 9 years old. So straight away you will guess the ending, which spoils the actual ending on Page 403 from being rather dramatic.

I will vote this novel the minimum of one star on Good Reads as I feel this book is one to AVOID. I think this book FAILS which is a shame as I have had a good run lately with the last 6 books being PASSES. One surprise is that in the P.S. at the back of the book, the question is asked "Which living writer do you most admire?" Roma's answer is Orhan Pamuk, which is strange as I really liked his The Museum of Innocence and he writes in a completely different league to Roma Tearne.

So, in the style of the popular television programme Big Brother, here are the best bits of Brixton Beach.

Page 53: 'You must know the difference between hating one person and hating a whole race. Don't make that mistake. The doctor was a man, a pariah man. Not even a dog can be that bad. Chance made him Singhalese, remember that, Alice. He would have been bad anyway.'

Page 94: 'No Singhala,' she repeated, grimly. 'No Tamil either. Only English. The language of the Just.'

Page 95: 'Crazy bloody Singhalese cow!'

Page 118: The old woman finished her rice and tucked her plantain leaf between the sides of the seats. Some uneaten rice fell to the floor. She stared at it fixedly, then she licked her lips and wiped her nose on the corner of her sari. Everyone in the carriage looked away politely.
'Look, Mama,' Alice said excitedly. 'Police!'
Two police cars had driven up and stopped beside the level crossing, their lights revolving pointlessly. The group around the ticket collector and the guard had grown by now and there was a lot of excited talk.
'What the hell is happening, men?'
The suited man returned to his seat.
'Body on the line,' he said shortly, mopping his brow.
It was getting hot. The carriage gave a collective, weary sigh and resigned itself for the inevitable delay.
'What the devil, men!' There's a body on the line every day. Why can't they find a more convenient place to do away with themselves? Stop inconveniencing others!'
'Some Tamil, I expect,' the man in the suit said, opening the window a little more. 'Ambulance on its way. Won't be long now before we move. The guard said they'd make up time.'
'Don't believe a word these guards say.They're all liars.'

Page 211: On their very first night on the boat, the passengers were given strange things to eat. Italian food, long slimy strings of a substance Alice had never seen before. Sita did not want food, all she wanted was to stay in the cabin and write a letter to Kunal. She wanted it to be ready for when the purser made the collection.
'You go,' she told Alice. 'You know where the dining room is, go and eat with the other children.'
But the food was inedible. Like worms, Alice announced at the children's table, making everyone snigger, and the Swiss girl sitting next to her, vomit.
'Why can't we have some rice?' Alice demanded of the steward.
'There's no rice where you're going,' he sneered. 'Better get used to proper food, you little savage!'

Page 212: 'I'm going to take you to an Indian restaurant, men. It's very cheap and I want you to meet some of the people there.'
'Indian?' Stanley had asked, startled.
This was a new idea. Rajah had given him a peculiar look.
'We've all got brown skins so far as the English are concerned.' he explained patiently. 'Forget about the rules at home. They don't apply here.'
He had laughed at the look on Stanley's face.
'You've got a lot to learn, Putha!' he had cried. 'And you've got to learn fast, before that Singhalese wife of yours arrives'


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