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THE HAMILTON CASE

Michelle de Kretser, Author
Michelle de Kretser, Author . Little, Brown $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-73548-3
Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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De Kretser's accomplished second novel (after 2000's The Rose Grower ), set in the author's native Sri Lanka in the years before its independence in 1948, is as much a haunting character study as it is an elusive murder mystery and a deep exploration of colonialism. At the heart of the story is Sam Obeysekere, a brilliant Ceylonese prosecutor and perfect English gentleman—who isn't, of course, English. Born into a privileged but unstable family—his "Pater" intentionally squanders their wealth; his "Mater" sleeps around, smashes expensive crystal and feels a "massive indifference" to her son; and his beloved sister seems bent on self-destruction—Sam, as an adult, focuses on his young son and his career. By all accounts, he's prospering, able to take his place beside the island's ruling class of Brits, Dutch burghers and Portuguese. But when he offers to help solve the murder of an English tea grower shot dead in the jungle, Sam makes a "central mistake" that destabilizes his life—and, in a way, the English-dominated life of his whole "mongrel" nation. De Kretser's self-deluding protagonist will no doubt remind readers of the butler in The Remains of the Day : it's a sharp portrayal of assimilation that she manages to make complex and even poignant ("Are we to become a nation capable of talking only to itself, a lunatic on the world stage?"). But Sam is his own unique and problematic self, and like everything else in this lush, uneasy world, from the secondary characters to the ghost-haunted jungle, he is capable of shocking. De Kretser's fine, brooding, mischievous style is sure to captivate fans of serious literary fiction. Agent, Sarah Lutyens. (May)

Forecast: The Hamilton Case got great reviews in the U.K., and interviewers seemed positively charmed by de Kretser herself. With a four-city author tour and national advertising, this Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick should find itself a sizable and appreciative audience.

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