Saturday, 3 November 2012
A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman
I really enjoyed A Disobedient Girl, mainly because of Latha herself. I've seen reviews complaining that Latha is an unlikable main character as she's not the most moral of people. And whilst that is true, I think this would have been a weaker book if Latha was simply written as a martyr. I liked that she was stubborn, proud and determined not to take her situation lying down; she wouldn't roll over and accept things the way they were. Throughout the book, Latha fought with whatever weapons she had available to her, even if that led to her doing questionable things, for example using sex to get back at her mistress early in the novel. I loved her spirit and resourcefulness and her constant hope that she could make a better life for herself. Even though she was in an impossible situation due to prejudice, she rarely gave in to bitterness. Freeman is also a political journalist and this is very apparent in the way she writes about the situation Latha faced;
"There is was again: a proper servant. That was all they had expected of her. Despite her education, regardless of it, and her looks, she was supposed to be no more, no less. Servant. The thing that had concealed her intentions, her desires, her womanliness, her very soul."
I also enjoyed the dual narrative aspect of the book. Chapters are alternated between Latha and Biso, and whilst it took me some time to get to grips with the fact that Latha's story unfolds over decades and Biso's only over a few days, the break in perspectives worked well. I was happy with the link between the two characters when it was revealed and also felt the ending was in keeping with plot. I also liked that the civil war stayed in the background of the story; too often it feels like authors from countries that have experienced war or political upheaval feel pressure to make this the center of their novels, like this is the only way people in the West will want to read their work. The war in A Disobedient Girl is there, but only ever as a backdrop to the story of Latha and Biso. I liked reading about other aspects of Sri Lankan life. In the same way, I liked that Freeman didn't feel the need to explain every new thing to the reader, she just immersed us in Sri Lankan culture and let us find our own way.
The only criticism I would make of this book is that it was a bit over-long and slow at the start. It seemed to be a long while before events started to happen and the middle section could have been edited down. Other than that, it was a great read and I'll be keeping an eye out for any more books written by Freeman in the future.
First Published: 2009
Edition Read: Penguin UK, 2011
Score: 4.5 out of 5