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The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser

The Hamilton Case (2003)

by Michelle de Kretser

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The Hamilton Case is divided into three distinct sections. The story begins in Ceylon in the early 1900's, a British colony with a complicated social structure. The social structure is a cascading one, with the British at the top, then the Sinhalese and under them the Tamil, and so on.

Part one of the narrative is in first person - Sam is telling the story of his childhood. It is one of loneliness, attempts to get the attention of his parents and struggles to fit in socially. He says, perhaps foreshadowing his experience with his own son, For myself, I believe that sons are born to disappoint their fathers. In that respect, every man fulfills his destiny. In contrast to what I perceived as the reader, Sam maintains that his school days were some of the happiest of his life.
Section two is a third person account of Sam's life, beginning at the point where he leaves school and starts work. Any affection or sympathy I may have developed for Sam in part one is completely obliterated by the narrative of part two. As the narrative progresses and the characters lives unfold, two mysteries emerge. The first is the Hamilton Case with its impact on Sam's career. The second is more subtle, and concerns an event from Sam's childhood and how it has shaped his life and the lives of his mother and sister.
The third section returns to the first person narrative, but from the point of view of an outside observer. I will call this narrator The Closer. He attempts to clarify The Hamilton Case and at the same time, clarify the costs to Ceylon of British colonialism and the costs of the rebellion against it.

The characters in the story are all unhappy. Either by nature, or because someone close to them makes them unhappy. Is the point that British colonialism made people unhappy? Maybe, but so do military coups and civil war. Is the point that ignoring or brushing off unpleasant things in life makes people unhappy? That a lifetime of such behavior can cost a person their grip on reality? Perhaps.
Life is bearable only if it can be understood as a set of narrative strategies. In the endless struggle to explain our destinies we search for cause and effect, for recurrent patterns of climax and denouement; we need beginnings, villains, we seek the hidden correlation between a rainy afternoon remembered from childhood and a letter that doesn't arrive forty years later. ( )
  nittnut | Mar 27, 2015 |
An intriguing languid and laconic wafting aside with extended forefinger the veil over high society colonial days with the ensuing isolation engendered following independence. This very put downable books apparent climax drifts by until eventually on the last page, we discover the deeper purpose. An exploration of how intangible is truth and the vectors of presumption and prejudice we each bring to bear on it. ( )
  tonysomerset | Jun 19, 2008 |
This novel is the story of Sam Obeysekere, a man born in Ceylon whose relationship to British Colonialism sets the stage for a discussion of the ways in which his family and culture are marked by the ghosts that rise up from the thousands of small deaths that result from being less than citizens.
While it is not a "mystery" in the traditional sense of the genre, it is certainly mysterious. After finishing reading it, I'm still not certain what really happened. And I think that's what distinguishes it somewhat from the run of the mill "mystery" novel.
This is not a tightly tied up investigation of a crime. It is the story of a man's life as told from multiple viewpoints. There is a murder mystery inset into the story, which is The Hamilton Case. But there are other mysteries as well: how did Sam & Claudia's baby brother die? how did Claudia's baby die? why did Jaya marry Claudia? how much can we trust Sam's version of events? how much can we trust Shivanathan's version?
At points I thought I knew the answers, but now I'm not at all sure. ( )
1 vote Jawin | Dec 31, 2006 |
very evocative language and characters in Ceylon.
  nhagner | Jun 19, 2006 |
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I always made it my business, at least, to know the part thoroughly. G. K. Chesterton.
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Set in the 1930s in Ceylon this gripping novel reflects the decay, corruption and last days of an empire and a world at the end of its tether. The story concerns a murder scandal that shakes the upper echelons of Ceylon 'society' and those who once had wealth and influence.… (more)

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