The Hamilton Case

“The Hamilton Case” was another book I picked up after reading the Salon review. It’s about the life of a Ceylonese lawyer and it’s first told as an autobiography, later as a straight omniscient-writer narrative and finally as a letter from an acquaintance. Salon sold the book as a mystery (which is why I picked it up), but the mysteries in the book were minor and relatively unimportant. Not necessarily to the narrative, but to the reader. Ultimately we don’t really care who killed Hamilton.
“The Hamilton Case” was not an easy book for me to read. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a lazy reader (I’m a lazy everything), and that I don’t want to concentrate in every word as a clue to the action. But if you don’t in this book, you run the risk of missing important pieces of the puzzle of Sam’s (the protagonist) life. That’s because the author mostly hints about things, or states them so furtively that they’re easy to overlook. For example, by the end of the book I’m left with the impression that Sam molested his sister, but I don’t really know that. I’m also unable to judge what exactly happened with baby Leo, and what did it mean to the future relationship between Sam and his sister Claudia. So heed my advise, if you read this book, do it slowly and pay attention.
Still, there were many things I liked about the book. For one, it introduced me in an intimate, and openly biased and incompletely manner, to a culture I know almost nothing about. A trip to the UC Berkeley library is in order, not only to pick up a book about the cultural revolution in China but now one on Sri Lankan history.
The distance with which the author kept Sam bothered me somewhat, as I felt I never could get inside the man. Apparently, however, neither could he. His struggle to see himself and present himself a certain way precluded self-understanding, something that hit home. His fear of being judged had made him very judgemental (and therefore unpleasant), a trait I unfortunately share with him. Still, Sam was mostly a very lonely man. I didn’t grasp enough about the myteries of his youth to understand wholy as to why. Did his mother reject him after she thought that he’d killed the baby? Or had she reject him anyway, not being much of the motherly type? Were his issues, rather, brought on by the strange nature of a boy’s school, where little kids are set off to compete with one another and more sensitive kids, who can’t grasp the social game or don’t have the skills to play it, are forever left behind? If you judge just by the talk shows, it seems the slights of youth can be so deep as to completely define us as adults.
Most of the characters in this book were disagreeable and unpleasant, and yet when they encountered their comeuppances (mostly the loneliness of being rejected by those they had been too self-involved to reach earlier in life) I couldn’t but feel sorry for them. Self-involvement is a horrible thing, but so is loneliness. And yet, how could it be any other way? The harshness of the characters obviously came from hurt and their main flaws were that they were too weak, and had been too alone, to get over them.
The end of the book brought on a different and somewhat unconnected delight, the observation that we are prone to interpret life in literary terms. Years before Hamilton, a British farmer, had been murdered and the explanations that Sam and others came up with were unconsiously straight out of the mystery novels, they themselves delighted on. Maybe it’s not so much that life imitates art, as that our interpretations of life are influenced by our exposure to art.
In all, I enjoyed the book though even reading as I did it, it was work. Still, I think the images and thoughts of Sam and his family will remain with me for a long time.