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4.0 out of 5 stars
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on 20 June 2017
amazing book have told all my friends to read it. What a superb writer she paints the most wonderful evocative pictures of Sri Lanka coupled with heartfelt tragedy. I loved it although it left me sobbing. Mary Hooper
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on 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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on 14 May 2012
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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on 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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 April 2016
The author, who fled with her family from Sri Lanka when she was ten, trained as an artist and her twin loves of literature and art come together in this memorable novel of three generations of a family living in Sri Lanka and London across three decades.

The main character is Alice Fonseka, an artist whom we first meet as a nine-year old child, but it is her grandfather, Bee, an artist and printmaker who inspires her artistic talent, whose character dominates the book. Many of his thoughts and sayings are of great strength to the growing Alice at times of crisis [‘If you are capable of seeing beauty in one place you will see it in another, you simply have to learn the way of seeing it.’]. This somewhat disproves the author’s contention that ‘Words were not his thing; explanations were best done with brushes. The colour of a place, the angle of the light, a tree, these spoke volumes.’ Bee creates the longing that continues to connect Alice to the island she has not visited for three decades – ‘This is your first home, you were born here. That is a powerful thing’.

That said, it is Tearne’s description of the dramatically declining political situation between the Singhalese and Tamils in her homeland, and the people caught up in it, that impresses most. She has the confidence to place violent events in Sri Lanka largely out of the frame, balancing these against the graphic descriptions of the London bombings of July 7th, 2005, that begins and ends the story.

Alice, like the author, has a Tamil father and Singhalese mother that makes life very difficult and is the reason for their emigration. If the part of the story set in London is something of an anti-climax it is mainly because the difficulties of Commonwealth immigrants to Britain have been well documented and because the characters that Alice meets in London lack the authenticity of those from Sri Lanka. However, there are frequent updates on the family’s difficult life as the military response to the violent attacks by the Tamil Tigers intensifies. With the exception of Bee, it is the women characters who dominate this novel.

Tearne rather unnecessarily brings the Holocaust into her story but is particularly sensitive in her handling of Alice’s mother’s later years as she succumbs to dementia, creating cardboard coffins and dressing a collection of dolls in Alice’s dead brother’s clothes. Throughout the book, which may be read as rather bleak, she is one character for whom little turns out well. The author subtly underplays Alice’s response to experiencing European art although had she been more confident and her art teacher less diffident the story might have ended very differently.

There are many lines that are so evocative as to warrant writing down – thus on the conflict, ‘The war began drumming again. After months of silence it marched in two-four time; a two-conductor orchestra without direction.’ The author is also pitch perfect in capturing the voices of such a diverse range of characters – including the growing Alice, her feckless father, her grandparents’ servants, a longtime friend and Buddhist monk, Alice’s depressingly English husband [whose behavior makes her fully realise what her mother had had to put up with] and her confused adolescent son.

I will certainly seek out the author’s other books, several of which have a Sri Lankan setting, and recommend this one very highly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 April 2016
The author, who fled with her family from Ceylon when she was ten, trained as an artist and her twin loves of literature and art come together in this memorable novel of three generations of a family living in Ceylon and London across three decades.

The main character is Alice Fonseka, an artist whom we first meet as a nine-year old child, but it is her grandfather, Bee, an artist and printmaker who inspires her artistic talent, whose character dominates the book. Many of his thoughts and sayings are of great strength to the growing Alice at times of crisis [‘If you are capable of seeing beauty in one place you will see it in another, you simply have to learn the way of seeing it.’]. This somewhat disproves the author’s contention that ‘Words were not his thing; explanations were best done with brushes. The colour of a place, the angle of the light, a tree, these spoke volumes.’ Bee creates the longing that continues to connect Alice to the island she has not visited for three decades – ‘This is your first home, you were born here. That is a powerful thing’.

That said, it is Tearne’s description of the dramatically declining political situation between the Singhalese and Tamils in her homeland, and the people caught up in it, that impresses most. She has the confidence to place violent events in Sri Lanka largely out of the frame, balancing these against the graphic descriptions of the London bombings of July 7th, 2005, that begins and ends the story.

Alice, like the author, has a Tamil father and Singhalese mother that makes life very difficult and is the reason for their emigration. If the part of the story set in London is something of an anti-climax it is mainly because the difficulties of Commonwealth immigrants to Britain have been well documented and because the characters that Alice meets in London lack the authenticity of those from Sri Lanka. However, there are frequent updates on the family’s difficult life as the military response to the violent attacks by the Tamil Tigers intensifies. With the exception of Bee, it is the women characters who dominate this novel.

Tearne rather unnecessarily brings the Holocaust into her story but is particularly sensitive in her handling of Alice’s mother’s later years as she succumbs to dementia, creating cardboard coffins and dressing a collection of dolls in Alice’s dead brother’s clothes. Throughout the book, which may be read as rather bleak, she is one character for whom little turns out well. The author subtly underplays Alice’s response to experiencing European art although had she been more confident and her art teacher less diffident the story might have ended very differently.

There are many lines that are so evocative as to warrant writing down – thus on the conflict, ‘The war began drumming again. After months of silence it marched in two-four time; a two-conductor orchestra without direction.’ The author is also pitch perfect in capturing the voices of such a diverse range of characters – including the growing Alice, her feckless father, her grandparents’ servants, a longtime friend and Buddhist monk, Alice’s depressingly English husband [whose behavior makes her fully realize what her mother had had to put up with] and her confused adolescent son.

I will certainly seek out the author’s other books, several of which have a Sri Lankan setting, and recommend this one very highly.
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on 28 October 2016
If I had stopped reading when Alice moves to London, this book might have got 4 stars, however, the author never seems to have met people who keep their chin up under suffering, or who even grow through suffering. Her characters are discriminated, abused, raped, macheted, gunned, bombed, kidnapped, murdered,cheated on, or smoke themselves to death. No glimmer of humour or hope!
Add to that sloppy research which places 7 July 2005 on a Friday, has Brixton "across the river" from Kennington (NOT Kensington), a surgeon who has to be at the hospital by 2pm then without explanation whiles the whole afternoon away with his girlfriend, a girl who is 9 in 1972 is somehow only do her A-levels in the summer of 1984, arrives in London in August 1972 but has her third summer in London in 1976... it's all too obviously made up, and not very uplifting fiction at that.
I so wish Roma Tearne had spent her beautiful writing style on different fiction.
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on 11 October 2010
While the novel's opening is very arresting, and the descriptions of Sri Lankan life and the conflict's impact on those involved are very well observed, I felt the book was spoiled by its contrived ending. The problems begin with the arrival of Simon, whom I found to be emotionally stunted and unsympathetic - with all that time spent in his room listening to Tosca and mooning over lost opportunities in his youth, as well as being generally useless, it's no wonder his wife dislikes him! Considering the background of her father's betrayal of his family (which Tearne omits to reference), I also found it hard to imagine what the normally empathetic Alice saw in him. Certainly, the author deals with his desertion of his family very matter of factly. All in all, he is very self absorbed and I found this hard to like - he wasn't exactly deserving of the heroine and the far more suitable Janake was dismissed as quickly as Tessa. It's a shame - as a writer, Tearne is highly descriptive and evocative. But I felt the ending was rushed.
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on 9 July 2010
"Brixton Beach" by Roma Tearne is a touching and beautiful piece of novel. It journeys during the 1970's. This refers to the time when there was civil unrest at Sri-Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon). The author shares the experience with readers. The central characters Alice and her mother Sita experienced the situation affecting the country. Alice's mother was a Singhalese and father Stanley was a Tamil. This created discontent and tension.

It takes a deep look at childhood during the schooling days and the close relationship with grandfather Bee. Bee was considered an exemplary person. He respected everyone for who they were. Sadly, as the situation escalated, Alice and her parents were left with no choice but to leave behind the native land and embark on a fresh life in UK. Life was not easy as they had little money, lived in very poor conditions and had few friends. It took a deep toll and changed their lives forever, which is very sad to read about. It moves forward to the present times, when Alice becomes a parent and the memories haunt her.

Brixton Beach recaptures a difficult time facing a country and uses characters to show what life was really like. It cannot be easy for the author to write a novel of this nature, as she experienced the situation herself. It has to be praised for the manner it is written, but it really stayed in your mind, as it so emotionally touching and sad to read.
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on 28 July 2010
I just loved this book. I lived in Sri Lanka as a young teenager, and reading this book just brought back the smells, the sights, the sounds, and importantly it taught me a lot about the war that I was quite childishly obliviously to when I lived there. It's a story that really makes you think, and complete sucks you into the world of the Fonseka family. I really enjoyed the slightly slow start to the book, allowing the characters to develop and become so deep and engaging. The story was so enjoyable to read and two months on I'm still thinking about it. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good in depth characters and a wonderful story that really evokes the feel of a whole other culture and lifestyle.
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