Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

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Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
Buy Evening is the Whole Day from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Evening is the Whole Day from Amazon.com

Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The problems in the Rajasekharan family contrast with the pains of the emerging state of Malaysia in this wonderful, rich story. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0007271894

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Just occasionally you read a book which grabs your attention and simply won't let go. Usually it's a book written by a seasoned writer with a gallery of techniques to hand. Rarely it's a debut novel, with prose so rich you feel pampered and a story which is everyday in its setting but extraordinary in the telling. Evening is the Whole Day is such a book.

Lawyer Rajasekharan seems to have everything that he could wish for. He lives in the Big House, his family home, with his wife and three children and his mother. Servants tend to their every need and money is not a problem. The family has come a long way since Appa's grandfather sailed across the Bay of Bengal to a new life in Penang. His plan to go back gradually died and India was no longer home. Appa's father made his fortune and bequeathed his son the Big House and ensured his position in society.

When Appa looked for a wife he decided first of all on what he didn't want. He didn't want one of the clever, challenging women, his intellectual equals, with whom he had dallied. He wanted a woman of simple goodness, a home body, but Amma, whom he choses, is on the crafty side of simple and it's not long before Appa realises that he has made a mistake. His mother, Paati, warned him before the marriage and she's proved right.

There are three children and it's a mixed blessing that they are, from an early age, a great deal brighter than Amma. Uma is her father's favourite, but when we meet the family she's about to leave Malaysia and has no plans to return. The youngest child, Aasha, is sensitive and her most meaningful relationship is with the ghost of a long-dead child. Only the middle child, Suresh with his quick tongue, seems to float above what's happening in the family. When Paati dies and Chellam, the servant hired to look after her, is dismissed for crimes unspoken it all begins to fall apart. And exactly why has Appa's brother, Uncle Ballroom, left the house never to return?

Post-colonial Malaysia is a country finding its feet too as the Chinese, Indian and Malay inhabitants struggle to find a national identity. Preeta Samarasan's great skill is her ability to tell the stories of individuals with sympathy and understanding whilst never losing sight of the larger picture of what was happening in the fledgling state. There's a gentle irony too as the politician, fighting for the rights of the worst-off people in society, pays his servant's wages direct to her father whom he knows will drink it all away the same day.

It's a wonderful book. You won't read it quickly as you'll need to savour each word as I doubt that there's one that's superfluous in the whole book. There are characters who stay with you long after you've finished the book and not one who doesn't come off the page perfectly formed. The plot is a delicate construction of story upon story leading you, inevitably, to a conclusion that you never thought you would reach, but which is perfect. It's splendid stuff and the book is highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

The book put me in mind of Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan but this book is far superior.

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