November 13th, 2013


Anil's Ghost: Michael Ondaatje

A bunch of decent people are caught up in a Civil War- Sri Lanka's as it happens. The decent people are trying to prove- by identifying a modern body found at an archaeological site- that the government is as murderous as its enemies- though why, with the death squads still active, it's so important to be fussing over a five year old murder is hard to say. Sometimes the characters themselves seem a little hazy about what they're doing and why.

Ondaatje is a poet. He's good at giving us a sense of this war as a tiny incident in a history of thousands of years- but not so hot on politics and class and all that stuff that is the novelist's bread and butter.  Yes, the government is as guilty as the rebels- but who are any of these people? What do they believe in?  What are they killing for? In a perspective of millennia these things may not matter very much, but here and now they do. It's fine for the characters to be ignorant of the thing they're caught up in, maybe not so fine for their creator.

Some humour would have been nice. Humour is how human beings have traditionally coped with horror. The ending- beautiful though it is it is- is a steal from Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev.