I had a rather difficult time with Reef. It’s a commendable first novel whose narrator Triton gets taken in as a young boy by marine biologist, Mr Salgado, and becomes his houseboy and a very accomplished cook: (For Mr Salgado’s female guest, “I made everything: little coconut cakes – kavum – patties, egg sandwiches, ham sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, even love-cake… I made enough for a horse.”)
This book just didn’t quite gel with me, although there were so many reasons why I should have liked it. I really do like books that feature food, for example, and this one had quite a bit of that – especially the big Christmas feast that Triton manages to coax up. I do like to armchair travel, and having never been to Sri Lanka before and not having read a book set in Sri Lanka before this one (I think), I did enjoy the descriptions of the beautiful setting.
I noted in an earlier post that this book has been described as ‘spicy’ but I found the characters rather bland. Neither is it really a coming-of-age story – he does get older, but I didn’t really think that his character developed very much. Sometimes no matter the accolades and the award shortlists (in this case, both the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1994), it just doesn’t work. In this case, I struggled to finish it, as I’m struggling to write about it right now. Reef wasn’t the right book for me, but it has had quite a lot of positive reviews, so it might be right for you.