2020 Aug 14
A coming-of-age masterpiece of remarkable story-telling published in 1994, Shyam Selvadurai’s debut novel ‘Funny Boy’ is a work ahead of its time. The novel unravels through the eyes of a Tamil boy who goes by the name “Arjie”, grappling with his personal, social and political realities during the Sinhalese and Tamil political unrest through the years 1970’s to 1980’s.
“Looks like you have a funny one here.”
What’s remarkable about this emotionally engaging narrative is how the author immediately establishes Arjie’s sexuality. He gradually creates awareness of his sexual tendencies for himself and It is certainly emotionally challenging to the reader as well as for Arjie, to experience the journey of being a ‘funny’ boy. Despite the love he gets, his traditional household establishment of conservative values effortlessly deem his sexuality to be funny, unnatural and in need of correction.
Creating narratives for several other eye opening characters who go through their own tumults in life, both character and plot driven stories are a versatile feature of Funny Boy. With light use of language to explore complicated, intense and conflicting situations, they are sure to take a direct hit at your heart and conscience.
The writer’s use of certain normative connotations, in order to differentiate and hint at certain gender ideologies might come through as conflicting at first glance. However, it all comes together in perfect union in the interweaving of the multi-faceted premise of the novel.
With multiple plots and characters contributing to the emotional and physical growth of Arjie, what stands out the most in this emotional rollercoaster is his undead innocence in an unaccepting society steeped in violence.
While he seeks emotional refuge in his delicate forms of relationships within his family and friends, the author evidently serves justice to this “novel in six stories”, with both cathartic experiences and food for indefinite thought.
Leaving the reader hanging in hope of possible futures for Arjie away from torment, the ending will make you question the place of all children and humanity in the fluctuating directions of society. Funny Boy is sure to drown you in a wave of nostalgia and give you the gift of beautiful and heartbreaking story-telling.