Reading Group No.3: ‘Mosquito’ by Roma Tearne

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I was unable to attend last month’s reading group at the bookshop I volunteer in as I was far too busy with my CertTESOL course, but I got stuck in to this month’s read, Roma Tearne’s beautiful first novel, Mosquito.

‘Some say art is our only highest form of hope’, he said absently. ‘Perhaps it’s our only hope. Living has always been a desperate business’.

Mosquito, Roma Tearne, pg.92

Set in the heart of war-torn Sri Lanka, Mosquito  tells the story of author Theo Samarajeeva who has returned to his native country in the hope that the beautiful and lush landscape will inspire his next novel. A widower, he arrives in Sri Lanka as an empty, hopeless soul who soon finds friendship in the presence of a talented, young artist, Nulani Mendis. It doesn’t take long before he realises his feelings for the young girl have become much more than simple friendship. However, in a country that is about to erupt into civil unrest and violence the outlook on their future together looks bleak.

As with the description I just gave, I was worried whilst reading the first half of the novel that Mosquito would verge on being a sort of chick-lit, love story but I was so wrong – and never have I been so glad to be wrong. Just as I was getting bored with Theo and Nulani’s relationship, no matter how touching it was, it felt like Tearne slapped me across the face and woke me up with the sudden action that took place. Mosquito then became a novel that was so much more than a blossoming relationship between two unlikely and damaged candidates.

Tearne is a talented artist – she writes from the heart and from what she knows about. It is interesting to note, from the additional insights and interviews that were at the back of my edition, that the beginning of the novel came from a piece of writing she did as a young girl about to leave for England:

‘The catamaran, it’s blue patched sails no longer flapping, its nets full of glistening catch, came in after the night’s fishing. The breeze had died down, the air had cooled, and the fishermen’s sarongs slapped wet against their legs as they swung the boat above water, to and fro, and up and along the empty beach, scoring a dark, deep ridge in the sand. Often, before the monsoon broke, the sea was like a mirror’.

Mosquito, Roma Tearne, pg.1

Tearne was asked by her teacher to write about the things she would be leaving behind in Sri Lanka. The opening lines are an altered version of this piece of writing, but it still holds the ultimate meaning of what she felt as a young girl. The descriptions in this book are vivid and real; Tearne brings to life the Sri Lankan landscape beautifully. But at the same time she captures the unnerving danger that eventually erupts half-way through and collapses in on the characters’ lives.

The magic of a novel, such as Tearne’s, is that, far from being a history lesson, Mosquito has indeed opened my mind and made me less ignorant of the events that took place during the Sri Lankan Civil War. Although a fictional account of one man’s story, the characters that make up the plot to this intricate novel could have been real. For example, when Nulani is younger she witnesses her father being burnt to death in the street. Tearne, in the interview at the back of my edition, recalls an incident of a man being set alight when she was only five years old. Although the relationship between Theo and Nulani is heart-wrenching, it is these smaller side-stories that really struck me and have stayed with me long after finishing the novel.

I look forward to reading Tearne’s second novel, Bone China, about a family who decides to leave Sri Lanka and move to England during the civil unrest, and I am happy to have come across an author I probably never would have done if it wasn’t for the book group I attend.

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