Published by: Corsair
Publication Date: 3rd March 2016
When I was a little girl, my dad left me and my mum, and he never came back. And you’re supposed to be gutted when that happens. But secretly I preferred it without him, cos it meant I had my mum completely to myself, without having to share her with anyone. And I sort of inherited all the affection she used to give to my dad – like he’d left it behind for me as a gift, to say sorry for deserting me
So says eleven year old Shruti of her broken home in suburban middle England. But hopes of her mother’s affection are in vain: speaking little English, and fluent in only Hindi and Punjabi, Shruti’s mother is lost, and soon falls prey to family pressure to remarry. To find another husband means returning to India and leaving Shruti behind.
Meanwhile at school a new arrival, the indomitable Meena, dispenses with Shruti’s bullying problems and transforms her day to day life. Desperate for companionship Shruti latches on to Meena to the point of obsession, following her through high school and on to university. But when Meena invites Shruti to join her on holiday in India, she has no idea how dangerous her obsession will turn out to be…
Gabriel Packard’s THE PAINTED OCEAN has been described by Colum McCann ‘as fearless tour de force. It is a rare achievement – an emotionally rich work of literature, delivered in the form of a gripping, page-turning story. The depiction of a British Indian childhood and adolescence is utterly compelling, as is the allegorical exploration of the human condition.’
Well, I have to say this was a whirlwind, I really couldn’t put it down. The character of Shruti is hapless, desperate for a friend and emotional stability; if events weren’t so disturbing they’d be hilarious. It becomes very dark when the young women get to the island and disturbing indeed.
As a story it feels authentic, including the very Nineties overuse by teenagers of the word ‘blatantly’, the fear of social workers and the weak approach to bullying in schools. Obviously, I can’t really say how close it is to the experience of British Asian children, that’d be for someone else to assess. It is a very rich and complex story, describing the slow growth of maturity in the main character, as well as the events in her life.
I really enjoyed this novel.