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Authors: Michelle de Kretser

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The Hamilton Case

BOOK: The Hamilton Case

Copyright © 2003 by Michelle de KretserReading group guide copyright © 2005 by Michelle de Kretser and Little, Brown and Company (Inc.)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at

The Little, Brown and Company Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

First eBook Edition: September 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-02818-9



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24


Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33


Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69


Chapter 70






International acclaim for Michelle de Kretser’s


“Simply put,
The Hamilton Case
is one of the most extraordinary novels I have ever read. . . . It makes the English language sing.”

— Kenneth Champeon,

“A splendid, intelligent, and at times mesmerizing work of fiction. . . . As Sam Obeysekere lingers over the events of his life, his cool Edwardian narrative voice is as deceptive as that of the butler Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s
Remains of the Day
. . . . By novel’s end, it is Ms. de Kretser’s great skill that has allowed us to become so thoroughly involved in a sordid family drama that we almost neglect to notice the great events passing by in the background.”

— Sudip Bose,
Washington Times

“Multilayered and beguiling. . . .
The Hamilton Case
— which beautifully renders the sensuality of Ceylon — is a very artful and evocative plea for interpretation over explanation. . . . Through a rich family history replete with joys and tragedies, Michelle de Kretser has adroitly demonstrated just what a baffling, intractable, multifaceted thing one person’s life can be.”

— William Boyd,
New York Times Book Review

“De Kretser’s prose is powerfully evocative. She deserves comparison with J. M. Coetzee and her countryman Michael Ondaatje.”

— Fiona Stager,

“Absorbing, elegantly written. . . . A many-layered, fascinating novel, finely attuned to both history and humanity. . . .
The Hamilton Case
displays a formidable talent.”

— Charles Matthews,
San Jose Mercury News

“Opulently atmospheric. . . . It is de Kretser’s style that seduces, a somersaulting bird of paradise. . . . At the close, a chain of revelations sews together chance and innuendo in surgically tight stitches. . . . Sam’s Victorianisms transmute to poignant irony, Maud’s losses bloom into poetic exactitude.”

— Kai Maristed,
Los Angeles Times

“There is a mystery at the heart of
The Hamilton Case.
. . . De Kretser takes her subject — which is how the English language, and with it a way of looking at the world and at people, has penetrated the psyche of Ceylon — and twines it into the fabric of her story. In other words, this is no protest novel, but an elegant, seductive, and manipulative work of art. . . . Sam Obeysekere’s life, as an old friend of his describes it, is ‘a devastating lesson in how a man might see every detail with perfect clarity and yet misread the shape of the whole.’ De Kretser has pulled off something remarkable, writing a novel that charms and beguiles without soothing us into making a similar and unjust mistake.”

—Laura Miller,

“I devoured this book. De Kretser misses nothing.”

— Christopher Ondaatje,
Literary Review

“De Kretser has given us the classic whodunit wrapped up in a beautiful and tragic literary novel.”

— Ella Walsh,

“A miniature masterpiece of a mystery. . . . Sherlock Holmes haunts
The Hamilton Case
. . . . Sam Obeysekere’s story takes some time to reveal itself as a mystery, but it does so when Obeysekere takes on the case of a respectable English planter — Hamilton — who gets shot in the chest. ‘Murder, a moonless night, the jungle crowding close.’ . . . De Kretser’s prose is stunning and subtle in depicting Sam’s downfall, evoking the glittering excesses of colonial life — after a party ‘you could have strolled across the lagoon on the champagne corks’ — and the tropical fecundity of Ceylon with equally irresistible power.”

— Lev Grossman,

“A bewitching novel. . . . An utterly captivating blend of intellectual muscle and storytelling magic.”

— Boyd Tonkin,

“A dazzling performance. . . .
The Hamilton Case
ratifies every dream one might have of a tropical landscape with its account of a rich and eccentric family and its complex and serpentine history. De Kretser is, however, as smart and up-to-date as she can be. . . . It is impossible to describe her prose as anything but rich, luxuriant, intense, and gorgeous.”

— Anita Desai,
New York Review of Books

“Prose as lush as a tropical jungle. . . . A poignant mediation on colonialism, family ties, race, and national identity.”

— Adam Woog,
Seattle Times

The Hamilton Case
is one of the most remarkable books I’ve read in a long while — subtle and mysterious, both comic and eerie, and brilliantly evocative of time and place. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but I feel it’s become part of my interior landscape, and I so much admire Michelle de Kretser’s formidable technique — her characters feel alive, and she can create a sweeping narrative which encompasses years, and yet still retain the sharp, almost hallucinatory detail. It’s brilliant.”

— Hilary Mantel

“A razor-sharp evocation of a place and time. . . .
The Hamilton Case
has a way of insinuating itself into the reader’s mind. . . . De Kretser, like Ishiguro in
The Remains of the Day
, finds a heartbreaking dignity in her hero’s pathos.”

— Bill Ott,

“Beautifully written. . . . There are mysteries, but de Kretser is more concerned to explore most movingly the characters of the dangerous, pompous, and ultimately tragic Obey and his family. . . .
The Hamilton Case
is haunting, lush, and delicately nuanced.”

— Peter Guttridge,

“Absorbing, elegantly written. . . . A many-layered, fascinating novel, finely attuned to both history and humanity. . . .
The Hamilton Case
displays a formidable talent.”

— Charles Matthews,
San Jose Mercury News

“The novel’s beautiful, delicate, and scathing prose . . . provides the ruminative gratification of serious literature.”

— Brenn Jones,
San Francisco Chronicle

“Part colonial whodunit, part Faulknerian gothic, the beauty of this book is its ability to constantly surprise. . . .
The Hamilton Case
is an important novel that gives up more of its secrets with each reading.”

— Liam Davison,
Weekend Australia

“Stunning. . . . Rich with evocative writing that brings to life its lush locale, made all the more exotic by its teetering place on the precipice of history.”

— Laura DeMarco,
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“De Kretser has given us the classic whodunit wrapped up in a beautiful and tragic literary novel.”

—Ella Walsh,

“A bewitching novel. . . . An utterly captivating blend of intellectual muscle and storytelling magic.”

—Boyd Tonkin,

“Rewarding, thought-provoking, witty, and often disconcerting,
The Hamilton Cas
e takes the reader into a world of transformations.”

— Clare Griffiths,
Times Literary Supplement

“Every so often there comes a novel for adults that combines a fastidious literary sensibility with that intense, urgent childhood readability, and then the result is as magical as the old childish enchantments.
The Hamilton Case
is like this. . . . De Kretser is a virtuoso in language. Whatever the linguistic equivalent of perfect pitch may be, she has it.”

— Jane Shilling,

“I read
The Hamilton Case
in a single day, greedily, absorbed in its narrative drive, its poised voice, its rich texture, its dense sense of life.”

— Delia Falconer,
Sydney Morning Herald

“Ambitious, gracefully composed. . . .
The Hamilton Case
is really about something far more absorbing than the tidy and classic plot twists of a British murder mystery. . . . ‘Who isn’t drawn to what he pities?’ The signal accomplishment of de Kretser’s hypnotic, lush, and calmly observant novel is that we feel this same sentiment on Sam’s own behalf, even after we learn in the story of his life how deeply suspect it must be. That is the final, remarkable mystery that endlessly enlivens
The Hamilton Case.

— Chris Lehmann,
Washington Post Book World



The Rose Grower

For Chris, with love


I always made it my business, at least, to know the part thoroughly.

G. K. Chesterton


name is the first story that attaches itself to a life. Consider mine: Stanley Alban Marriott Obeysekere. It tells of geography, history, love and uncertainty. I was born on an island suspended midway on the golden trade route between East and West—a useful bauble, fingered and pocketed by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in turn. In 1902, when I was born, Sir Alban Marriott was Governor and he agreed to be my godfather. How could he refuse? He had been in thrall to my mother ever since she sent him the skin of a leopard she had shot, along with a note.
I shall call on you between five and six this evening. The skin is for the small blue reception room, which is ideally suited to fornication and whatnot
. Her name was Maud and she was a great beauty. Also a first-rate shot. In Scotland she had stalked deer with the Prince of Wales; his performance, she reported, was mediocre. He presented her with a brooch fashioned from an eagle’s talon mounted on silver and onyx. Mater dismissed it as
monumentally obvious
and palmed it off on her stewardess in lieu of a tip on her voyage home.

My father insisted on calling me Stanley, although my mother hated the name. I have often pondered the significance of Pater’s uncharacteristic resolve. His father, too, was a Stanley, so he might simply have been affirming family tradition. On the other hand, might his assertion of my paternal provenance betray some anxiety about it? My mother had a certain reputation. It was alleged that she once swam in a jungle pool wearing only her bloomers, even though there were gentlemen and snakes present. Half of Colombo society followed the lead of Lady Marriott, who was stout and afflicted with shingles, in cutting her dead. Mater said Stanley was fit only for a peon, so it was just as well my initials spelled Sam. These days there is no one left to remember that I was ever called anything else.

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