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Brixton Beach [Hardcover]

Roma Tearne
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 May 2009

Opening dramatically with the horrors of the 2005 London bombings, this is the profoundly moving story of a country on the brink of civil war and a child's struggle to come to terms with loss.

London. On a bright July morning a series of bombs bring the capital to a halt. Simon Swann, a medic from one of the large teaching hospitals, is searching frantically amongst the chaos and the rubble. All around police sirens and ambulances are screaming but Simon does not hear. He is out of breath because he has been running, and he is distraught. But who is he looking for?

To find out we have first to go back thirty years to a small island in the Indian Ocean where a little girl named Alice Fonseka is learning to ride a bicycle on the beach. The island is Sri Lanka, with its community on the brink of civil war. Alice's life is about to change forever. Soon she will have to leave for England, abandoning her beloved grandfather, and accompanied by her mother Sita, a woman broken by a series of terrible events.

In London, Alice grows into womanhood. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she has a son. Slowly she fulfils her grandfather's prophecy and becomes an artist. Eventually she finds true love. But London in the twenty first century is a mass of migration and suspicion. The war on terror has begun and everyone, even Simon Swann, middle class, rational, medic that he is, will be caught up in this war in the most unexpected and terrible way.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; First Edition; 1st printing. edition (28 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007301545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007301546
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 788,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roma Tearne arrived with her parents in Britain from Sri Lanka at the age of ten and trained as a painter, completing her MA at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford. For nearly twenty years her work as a painter, installation artist, filmmaker and novelist has dealt with traces of history and memory in public and private spaces.

Roma's first novel, 'Mosquito', was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award. She is married with three children and lives in Oxford.

Product Description


'Prose so lush it appeals to every sense, the pages are suffused with the scents and tastes, ring with the sounds of Sri Lanka and South London… Roma Tearne is an exquisite writer and captivating storyteller, such that the reader is endlessly torn between the desire to linger and the urge to turn the page to see where she will take us next.' Aminatta Forna

'A GREAT STAIN ON SRI LANKA: The shelling may have stopped but persecution continues. Our beautiful, lost island needs help.' Guardian

'An absorbing novel' Source Magazine

Praise for Mosquito:

‘“Mosquito” plays with sensuous mixes of human bestiality and natural beauty…It is in this continuing agency of remembered love – presented as the colours, sounds and smells of art, in dialogue with beauty and horror – that the uplifting politics of this fine novel lies.’ Independent

‘Heart-rending…Readers of this powerful novel cannot fail to be moved…but they will also realise that, as well as being a rebuke to indifference, the book is also about hope and survival.’ Christopher Ondaatje, Spectator

‘“Mosquito” lyrically captures a country drenched in both incomparable beauty and the stink of hatred.’ Guardian

‘Tearne brings her skills as a painter to her writing, creating some extraordinarily lovely portraits of Sri Lankan land and seascapes, a stunning backdrop to the changing horrors of the country’s 20-year civil war. Anyone who has visited, or has a passing interest in Sri Lanka, should read this beautiful novel.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘“Mosquito” is a complex, ambitious book from a writer with a real talent for language. We will be hearing a great deal about Ms. Tearne in the future.’ Lauren B. Davis, author of ‘The Stubborn Season’ and ‘The Radiant City’

‘There are some beautiful passages in “Mosquito”…These flashes of true beauty, along with an impressively sustained forward drive, are enough to make “Mosquito” an engaging and thought-provoking novel.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Anyone who has a passing interest in Sri Lanka should read this beautiful novel.’ Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Roma Tearne fled Sri Lanka at the age of ten, travelling to Britain where she has spent most of her life. She gained her Master's degree at the Ruskin Shool of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford, and was Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. She was recently awarded a fellowship in the visual arts by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain. She lives and works in Oxford.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memory and identity in the migrant experience 27 July 2009
Roma Tearne's third novel - like her first, Mosquito, which I also recommend - centres on a young woman, an aspiring artist, who initially learns about life, love and much else against a background of inter-racial violence in Sri Lanka. But when her beloved grandparents insist that Alice Fonseka's mother take the girl to England for her safety because of her mixed parentage, will she be any more secure there?

Brixton Beach is beautifully realised. Though Alice, her mother Sita and her grandfather Bee are the three chief protagonists, the author's use of multiple narrative points of view allows us to come to know much of the other characters' thoughts and feelings.

The book is awash with colour, whether it be the deep blue of the Ceylonese sea and the dazzling sunlight of Alice's childhood beach or the muted hues of London's buildings and temperate climate. Colour is mixed up with emotional clarity too, and Sita and Alice find that the memories they cling to in order to shape and maintain their view of themselves can also become a prison.

Is assimilation really possible, or even desirable? What does it mean to be born in one country and grow up in another; and what are the implications for British-born children of parents from far-off lands?

Richly detailed and moving, Brixton Beach is ultimately hard to put down.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and Compelling - a real winner 13 Jun 2009
`Brixton Beach' opens dramatically with the horrific events of the 2005 London bombings - a beginning that immediately pulled me into the novel. The descriptions of the after-math of the bombing are vividly drawn, quite disturbing and very thought-provoking.

The story then moves back thirty years to war-torn Ceylon - and concentrates on the story of Alice, the daughter of a Singhalese mother and a Tamil father. The major character in Alice's life is her grandfather Bee - a strong, brave man with family values and the good of his country at the heart of everything that he does.

As a child of parents from two different cultures, Alice is treated as something as an outsider and after a tragedy within the family she and her mother follow her father to England to find a better life.

The novel is a story of homeland, identity and relationships, and these are all tested when the family are in England

This is a colourful and descriptive novel which I enjoyed immensely, towards the end of the story I found it very difficult to put down. The ending is dramatically written and the story ends on the same day that it begins - the July 2005 London bombings.

I think this novel would spark some fascinating book group debate and will certainly stay with me for quite a while.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Disappointing 23 April 2011
I echo the voices of other reviewers who state that the description of Sri Lanka was enthralling and beautiful. The first section of the book was absolutely absorbing and I really felt I had stumbled across a gem of a book.

However, as soon as Alice moves to London, it was as if another author had taken over from Tearne. The characters were one dimensional, Alice's abandonment of her beloved grandfather and best friend was incomprehensible (even with the explanation that she was `angry').

The book took a really strange pace as the chapters progressed (a chance meeting on one page, jumped to a marriage, child and divorce on the next). It bounded at a silly pace quite honestly that jarred against the slow highly descriptive first section. I have thought perhaps this was intentional - to show the contrast between her life in Sri Lanka and the life she had in London where she never felt she belonged. But quite frankly it doesn't work, and it is very difficult to find any connection with characters that are so swiftly introduced and removed again, in a matter of pages, thus making it difficult to really understand Alice's reaction and emotions.

I don't agree that it was `too sad', life is no picnic! However it attempts to tackle some hard hitting issues in both Sri Lanka and London that don't quite marry together in this book, it felt as if the author had spread too thinly, not really getting to the core of either issue.

I was so very disappointed with this book. It took me a matter of hours to get through the first, beautiful section, only to force myself for weeks to finish it. It's a begrudging two star - so much potential wasted!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unrelenting misery 14 May 2012
By emsha
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Clearly from other reviews, this book is a bit of a Marmite thing. Many readers love it, but I'm afraid it left a bad taste in my mouth. Having created a bunch of characters, the author seems to have spent a lot of time imagining the worst possible outcomes for them. A baby dies at birth, a husband is brutally attacked, a beloved child is snatched and murdererd, and an elderly couple butchered at their own home. And there's much more ... Many readers have found the writing beautiful, and I did enjoy some lyrical descriptions. It is also illuminating to find out about just how terrible the conflict in Sri Lanka was at the time. However, I also agree with the reviewer who said the ending is 'a deus ex machina of the worst sort', as it only serves to confirm the thrust of the plot - that 'life's a bitch and then you die.' Alice's late love affair with Simon the surgeon feels a bit contrived and over-written and it seems to arrive as something of a non-sequitur - unless it is another deliberate evocation of the randomness of fate. I admit the child Alice is enchanting and well-realised, but I feel she grows more and more sketchy as the novel moves on. I was mourning the loss of the 9 year old Alice long before the horribly inevitable finale. My advice would be to see how you feel after reading a few chapters - if you're not keen, save yourself a lot of misery and leave it there.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Read
Absolutely loved this book, so much so that I have bought it for two friends.
Published 24 days ago by A. Law
5.0 out of 5 stars having just visited Sri Lanka ........
A fantastic book! I enjoyed every word. I love reading and learning about a new culture or country during a book.
Published 1 month ago by ahume
4.0 out of 5 stars Brixton Beach
Deeply moving, poignant and beautifully written. I read this book in almost one sitting. Such clear descriptions of a picturesque island and a life that was altered forever and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Macshah
5.0 out of 5 stars My review of Brixton Beach'
Amazing!! A true masterpiece which will grace my bookshelves for years. I know that I will read it again and again.
Published 4 months ago by Lorrie H.
1.0 out of 5 stars Downer
This book was so depressing I wished I had never started to read it. I kept hoping for a happy and satisfying conclusion to all the depression but it was not forthcoming.
Published 4 months ago by Lynn
4.0 out of 5 stars Keeps you engrossed...
Bought on a recommendation by a friend. Well written and it keeps you engrossed. The background to the story has some significance to my family so I could relate to a lot of the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by jackie holland
3.0 out of 5 stars Braxton Hicks!!
This book was chosen for this month’s Book Club. What started out as A promising read, became a chore (polite for bore) to finish. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Need2Talk2Someone Counselling Services UK /International
3.0 out of 5 stars Brixton Beach
I was recommended Brixton Beach as I was going to Sri Lanka for hols.
I bought both and I prefered Mosquito to Brixton Beach. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Breon de Soyza
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, tragic, sad story of a generation living in war torn Ceylon
Moving portrayal of life in Ceylon post colonialism and leading up to Independence and the new state of Sri Lanka. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Book chatter
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Very interesting to learn the customs of other people.
Also interesting to know the problems people face in other countries because of their birth.
Good read
Published 11 months ago by Miss Patricia Eileen Brailey
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