See practise HSC and school questions for Crime Writing.
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje is one of the texts for Extension English 1: Genre – Crime Fiction. I borrowed this book from the library recently, not because I was tutoring it, but because I was just curious. I had really enjoyed The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – and the library’s website had recommended Anil’s Ghost for readers who liked The Kite Runner.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this read.
The first half of the novel is incredibly disjointed, surreal yet dull that it is hard to remain engaged. The commentary by the narrator often seems irrelevant to the plot, such that it was difficult to follow what was going on much less be interested by what as going on! But perhaps this is a novel that requires re-reading to fully understand it?
The aspects which I did enjoy were the conclusion and the section The Mouse about Sarath’s brother, Gamini. This was an interesting read, because it focused on character in a way that intrigued me with bits of information, without being too jumbled and putting me off.
Crime Fiction Conventions:
Consider the following as you read:
- In what ways is Anil’s Ghost a modern crime fiction?
- How is the detective work carried out?
- What does Ondaatje also show us about war and political turmoil through the crime fiction genre?
- How is the focus on the identification of the victim a subversion of the crime fiction genre?
- Anil’s Ghost does not focus on explaining who killed Sailor and why – does this follow the crime fiction genre?
- Does the setting following the crime fiction conventions?
- Is Anil the stereotypical detective?
- What is Ondaatje saying about good and evil? Guilt and innocence?
Plot Summary (from Wikipedia)
The story opens up in early March as Anil arrives in Sri Lanka after a 15 year absence abroad. Her visit comes as a result of the increasing number of deaths in Sri Lanka from all the warring sides in the 1980s’ civil war. While on an expedition with archeologist Sarath, Anil notices that the bones of a certain skeleton do not seem to be 6th century like the rest which leads her to conclude that the skeleton must be a recent death. Unsure where Sarath’s political allegiance lies, Anil is skeptical of his help, but agrees to it anyway.
Along their journey to identify the skeleton, nicknamed Sailor, Anil becomes increasingly suspicious of Sarath. She begins to question his motives and sees his comments as a hint for her to censor herself since their discovery would implicate the Sri Lankan government in the death of Sailor. Later, Anil and Sarath visit his former teacher, Palipana, hoping to have him confirm their suspicions. Palipana then suggests having a reconstruction of the face done so that others might identify him. They agree to do so and head on to a small village named Galapitigama.
There Anil meets Sarath’s brother, Gamini, an emergency doctor. They discover that he is intricately involved in the country’s affairs and daily struggles to save the lives of numerous victims. Gamini helps them with a fellow Sri Lankan whose hands have been nailed at which Gamini explains to them about the different atrocities that the citizens face as a result of the civil war. Later on, Anil and Sarath meet with Ananda, whom they hope can reconstruct the face of Sailor for them. Ananda does so, and in the process attempts suicide, only to be rescued by Anil. Anil and Sarath eventually are able to identify Sailor in a small village.
As Anil prepares a report to present claiming that the skeleton was a recent death, the skeleton of Sailor disappears. Frustrated, she continues on with her presentation with another skeleton but is upset when Sarath ridicules her and claims she cannot make any claims about government involvement with the skeleton she has. Angry and betrayed, Anil’s belongings and research are seized and by the time she leaves the building she is left with nothing. Once outside, she meets Sarath, who surprises her with the body of Sailor that he has placed in a van. Sarath instructs her to leave quickly and catch a plane out of the country. Relieved, Anil leaves in the hope that the evidence will be sufficient. Sarath’s actions however have severe consequences.