The Far Spent Day by Nihal da Silva promises much. The fact that it does not deliver all it attempts should not deter anyone from exploring its world. Those interested in reading about the society and politics of contemporary Sri Lanka will find too little to justify careful scrutiny of the 100,000 word text. But they will enjoy the unexpectedly complex thriller that unfolds. People seeking a rip-roaring story will enjoy the process, but the only real suspense is that of the chase, since the identity and deeds of the protagonists, and indeed their principal roles is never in doubt.
The Far Spent Day is constructed as a film. The characters live very much in the present of the events that confront them and rarely reflect. Nihal da Silva also inserts gaps in the text whenever there’s a new scene or a change of camera angle. There is also copious dialogue, enhancing the film-like effect. The style is racy but restrained. There is much promise of sex, but Sri Lankan youth seem to be more restrained than their Western counterparts, certainly their fictional counterparts.
The novel’s Sri Lankan experience is valuable, if under-played. Ravi, a Sinhalese, and Tilak, his Tamil friend, have returned from overseas with their university degrees. They go out to celebrate and have a couple of drinks. There is a brawl and punches are thrown. Ravi and Tilak’s problem is that they have picked a fight with a political bigwig and such people don’t fight clean, or give up until they have ground all opposition into the dust, usually dead.
Anyone who has driven in Sri Lanka knows about a minister’s cavalcade. It approaches from behind, comprises a number of large four-wheel-drives, and travels at speed with horns blaring and headlamps on full beam. Men in the passenger seats wave giant red and white gloved hands out of their windows to demand that all other traffic should get out of the way, immediately and without argument. They demand control, and get it, because if you don’t give way, they will run you off the road. If there were an accident, it would not be their fault.
Ravi and Tilak find themselves involved with such a character, and the minister decides to get even. How even that means only becomes clear at the end of the novel’s first section. Ravi’s life, and that of his whole family, has been utterly destroyed, ruthlessly destroyed. Every attempt he makes at securing justice results in more suffering for himself and others.
Tanya, a young attracting Burgher journalist, takes up Ravi’s cause. She is in search of a scoop, but her own security is soon at risk. Ravi and Tanya are soon involved in a chase across the country in pursuit of their minister quarry, whose allies pursue the two companions. They evade capture, but not consequences. They seek evidence, find it and a relationship develops between the Sinhalese Ravi and the Burgher Tanya to add further complication and twist.
Later a young girl called Janaki becomes part of the plot. She assists Ravi in matters that only a professional woman could conduct. But it does her no good as newspaper stories backfire and scandals fail to materialise. The minister’s influence seems to stretch everywhere in Sri Lankan life.
But Ravi has one final push to secure justice, to allow him to live his own life again without constantly fearing for his own safety. Eventually, when the book’s plot has worked through, the characters and the reader are all exhausted, but we got there.
The Far Spent Day would be a better novel at two thirds of its current length. It will not completely satisfy and reader, but its blend of fast-moving story with glimpses of Sri Lankan life is a rare mix, one that many readers will find compelling.