Romesh Gunesekera Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Romesh Gunesekera Reef

Gunesekera is a Sri Lankan-born English novelist and short story writer.

Gunesekera's first novel, Reef, explores the transition from British rule to troubled independence in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) through the eyes of the narrator, a young houseboy named Triton. Cook and caretaker for the remote and cerebral Mr. Salgado, a marine biologist educated in England, Triton embodies, with his cooking and mastery of "the art of good housekeeping," the island's increasingly forsaken traditions. The serenity of Salgado's life and household is disrupted, first, when he invites his mistress, the cosmopolitan Miss Nili, to live with him, and subsequently by the country's quickly encroaching political violence. Salgado and Triton eventually flee to London but find their old lives impossible to replicate. After several years of trying to give the devoted Triton a sense of independence, Salgado returns to Sri Lanka to care for Miss Nili, who has been paralyzed in the war's violence. Triton remains in England, using his culinary skills to become a successful restaurateur. Critical praise for the novel focuses on Gunesekera's rapturous descriptions of daily life in Sri Lanka, such as Triton's preparations for his first Christmas dinner and his delight in Miss Nili's reactions to his baking. Many critics applaud the contrast between the domestic details that form Triton's world and the larger themes of political and social strife. Reef was considered for Britain's Booker Prize and explores in greater depth some of the ideas encompassed in Monkfish Moon (1992), Gunesekera's previously published volume of short stories.