2017 Apr 16
Seelawathie, a young, village girl is brought to the city to care for Cat, the daughter of a prominent Colombo family. With her parents involved with each other and their active social life, Cat soon comes to regard Seelawathie as her parent and best friend. They build their own happy microcosmic life within the large household, and are relatively content until Seelawathie falls in love. Her forbidden relationship challenges the rigid boundaries of society and leads to a cataclysmic end of innocence. The Lament of the Dhobi Woman explores the issue of class in Colombo society and the fragile intricacies of love and forgiveness.
Karen Roberts manages to paint a beautifully vivid picture of life as part of Colombo’s elite, narrating through the eyes of Cat. Those who have had their lives even slightly influenced by such an environment, will find that the dialogue eerily mirrors your day-to-day actions. The minutiae of having and being an unwanted child, the guilt, the jealousy, the hurt and later, the indifference have been expertly dealt with. As the story progresses, we fall in love with Seelawathie, the love she shows Cat, the simplicity of the ayah’s life (cleverly juxtaposed with the Colombo 7 lifestyle), as Cat describes the most important presence in her own life.
The story even though somewhat predictable, is captivating and deeply, emotionally stirring as can be seen by the poignant climax. Roberts subtly weaves a simple tale exploring convoluted issues that people usually find uncomfortable to address. Much like Cat, we the readers, experience a certain growth throughout the book as we come to develop a sense of understanding of the complexities of the characters. Karen Roberts skilfully navigates this and makes us sympathise with those whom we may not even agree with. The Lament of the Dhobi Woman is not a happy story, yet it is not a sad one either. The standout point of the novel is the narrative style which renders you unable to put it down.