on 28 July 2012
The plot of The Road to Urbino keeps you reading, the ideas set you thinking, and the atmosphere stays with you. I found the characters sensitively drawn - no heroes nor villains, but real people with a strong physical presence. It's about colour and light and the power of painting, as much as about selfishness and love. The story of Sri Lanka is woven in, but the book is never polemical. Rather, it shows how history can meld with art in the life of an individual, and the meaning they - and you - can draw.
"Last night I dreamed I was in Talaimannar again ...through the unlatched gate I went, followed by I know not whose footsteps, with the scent of lotus flowers all around me". So starts Roma Tearne's latest novel, with the opening lines sounding somewhat reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier's 'Rebecca', but in 'The Road to Urbino' the author has quite a different tale to tell. Lynton Rasanagium, known as Ras, a Sri Lankan exile, is being held in a British prison on a charge of terrorism, his crime being the theft of Piero Della Francesca's 'Flagellation' - one of the most exquisite and mysterious works of art ever painted and famously referred to as the 'Greatest Small Painting in the World'.
Elizabeth Saunders, Ras's barrister, visits Ras in his cell and in order to discover the events that led up to his surprising crime, she encourages him to relate the story of his life. In this way the reader learns about Ras's past; of how he grows up in Sri Lanka amid civil war and unrest; about his brother Sam's involvement with the Tamil Tigers; of their flight from their homeland; about Ras's marriage to a British woman once he is in England and of the love he holds for his daughter, Lola. As Ras continues his story, we discover how, through his interest in art, he becomes an attendant at the National Gallery and meets the rather amoral Alex Benson and, through Alex, the art historian, Charles Boyer and Charles's beautiful wife, Delia.
Running alongside the history of Ras's life, is the story of Alex Benson who becomes a witness for Rasa's defence and, in the attempt to gather as much information as possible to help her with the case, Elizabeth calls on Alex and persuades him to talk about his connection with Rasa. As Alex responds to Elizabeth's questions, he shares with the reader his obsession for Delia (whom he knew before Charles), of how Charles and Delia met each other and of their happiness together. We then also learn of the terrible tragedy that befell Charles and Delia and altered their lives forever, and we discover a lot more besides - but I cannot reveal more for fear of spoiling the story for prospective readers.
This is a beautifully written novel, drenched with colour and rich in its descriptions of art, of Sri Lanka and of Italy. Roma Tearne, who has a Master's degree in art and was the Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Ashmolean Museum, brings her artistic talents to her writing and creates some striking tableaux for her stories. 'The Road to Urbino' is a poignant and wonderfully absorbing novel written by a captivating storyteller and one I very much enjoyed.
on 11 October 2013
What is the significance of Urbino in this book? It is where the painting of the Flagellation by Piero Della Francesca is located. This painting is the centrepiece of the book in that the plot revolves around it. The story opens in Jaffna, the war-torn Northern province of Sri Lanka. Roma Tearne is originally from Sri Lanka, half-Tamil and half-Sinhalese. When she was ten years old her family was forced to emigrate to Britain because of the threat of racial violence. The suffering of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka is a recurring theme in her novels. The anti-hero of the book is Ras, a Tamil orphaned by the war and who, like Tearne herself, finds refuge in Britain. By presenting him as a flawed character she resists the temptation to glorify the Tamil `cause'.
One of the characters in the book, Lola, Ras's half-Tamil half-English daughter, makes the glib statement that `Western art is white elitist art'. Tearne's entire novel is devoted to the idea that the great works of the renaissance painters are able to speak to anyone who approaches with their eyes and mind open, i.e. those who are willing to walk the road to Urbino. This road is not an easy one, as Ras discovers when he makes a costly mistake. The novel ends with Lola just beginning her path on the long and hard road previously trod by her father.
on 15 August 2012
This novel is very different in story and style than Roma Tearne's earlier four novels, and it's exciting to see growth and change in a writer. What she did keep is her wonderful flair for painting word images, her concern for the victims of war, the use of art in healing pain, her explorations of memory, and the settings of Sri Lanka, England, and Italy.
The story follows two protagonists. The first is Ras, a middle aged immigrant from Sri Lanka, as he awaits trial in London for stealing The Flagellation, by Italian Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca.
Through his first person narration, we hear about his early childhood in Sri Lanka, where his father disappeared one night and his mother died in a bomb blast. He and his brother spent most of the next years in a Tamil detention centre, until they had a chance to escape to England at the age of 19 and start a new life. Ras marries and has a child, Lola, and then divorces. He ends up working as gallery attendant at the National Gallery, where he is befriended by the charming and kind art curator, Charles.
The second protagonist is Alex, a friend of Charles. Through Alex, we get a fuller picture of the life of Charles and his wife Delia. They, and their circle of friends, spend a lot of fabulous summers in Italy, enjoying la dolce vita--art, food, company, etc. Being a Roma Tearne novel, some sad tragic events occur that change everything.
Everyone in this novel is consumed by an obsession, wherein we find the source of most of the conflict. But all the characters are also scared by war--even though the wars were thousands of miles away, or decades in the past.
It took me about 30 or 40 pages to warm up to it, but then I loved this novel. I actually wasn't ready for it to end, or to leave these characters lives (I especially liked Charles and Delia), which is really unusual for me with any book.
on 20 January 2014
A wonderful and highly readable novel. It is the story of Ras, a Sri Lankan who fled his country as a child. Now he has committed a crime (the theft of an Italian painting) and he tells his life story to the barrister, Elizabeth. Gradually we understand him, his love for his daughter, and his motives for the crime. Meanwhile, a British man, Alex, also tells his story to Elizabeth. Alex describes the sad but beautiful story of his friend Charles and his former lover Dee along the way. I found it fascinating that we never actually get to know Elizabeth. We only learn about her from the mens' body language and comments to her.
The two men - Ras and Alex - have very different stories, but they share a lot. Both have struggled to rebuild their lives, only to find themselves lonely and lost today. Both are obsessed with losses and unrequited love, partly thanks to their own selfish behaviour. A love story? Yes, to some extent. But it is much more than this. It is about the love of art, the love of Italy, and how our past lives lead us to where we are today. The beauty of art has a strong role in the novel, which I enjoyed a lot. I think the story is well-paced, well-crafted and beautifully written. A great read!
on 2 July 2013
As a lover of this author whom I discovered by chance whilst on holiday in Sri Lanka her country of birth this book is slightly different to her previous three books. The troubles of her country are never far away from her writings but her love of art is more to the front in this book. An excellent read and I look forward to her next writings.
on 23 June 2013
I am never disappointed with a Roma Tearne book and I have read them all.
This is another delightful novel, she is wonderful at describing the various areas that are visited by the characters and their personalities fly off the page.
on 25 July 2012
I was attracted by the publicity about this novel because of my interest in the early Renaissance artist, #Piero della Francesca,whose works are featured in the book, and because I run on #Facebook THE PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA SOCIETY (UK). The novel kept me page-turning whenever I had a spare moment. It is beautifully written, evocative of Tuscany and Umbria, and penned with economy. No need to be a Piero lover to enjoy THE ROAD TO URBINO. Just open it and read. JAMES WATSON, author of Teen fiction novels TALKING IN WHISPERS, TICKET TO PRAGUE, FAIR GAME: THE STEPS OF ODESSA, all now available on Kindle.
on 18 March 2014
I enjoyed The Road to Urbino, especially the parts about paintings, but found the structure rather complicated and the characters difficult to engage with
on 23 March 2014
I was very disappointed with this book. I suppose I had been spoiled with Brixton Beach which was amazing. I will compare again when I finish Mosquito.