Romesh Gunesekera’s third novel is set in the near future on an unnamed tropical island, once a gentle and fertile semi-paradise — the ‘edge of heaven’ — but now poisoned by decades of war and pollution. Marc, the narrator, arrives from London to try to piece together his fragmentary and troubling history. His grandfather left the island many years before and his father, a pilot, died in dubious circumstances while flying a fighter plane in the endless civil war. Passing his days in a seedy, deserted hotel, Marc meets Uva, a mysterious and passionate dissident. Uva is releasing a pair of emerald doves and she shows Marc her farm, where she is revitalizing and restocking her despoiled land. The two become lovers but are wrenched apart when the farm is destroyed by rampaging soldiers and Uva disappears. Taken prisoner by the shadowy military regime, Marc escapes and, together with Jaz and Kris, two ill-matched companions, sets out into the perilous countryside to find her.
Our location is obviously Sri Lanka and Gunesekera has, as in his previous fiction, produced an aching elegy for a fragile, damaged land. Unfortunately, he has also attempted to shoehorn into the same novel a futuristic action thriller, a parable on flight, a meditation on fatherhood and a love story. These elements don’t really gel and the whole thing too often reads like a sketch for a novel, full of interesting but unpolished ideas, rather than the finished article. Those seeking Gunesekera’s best work would be advised to begin with Reef or the stories in Monkfish Moon.Peter Whittaker