Chandani Lokuge has written four novels, which include If the Moon Smiled and Turtle Nest. She is an associate professor at Monash University. Her latest novel, My Van Gogh, is published by Arden.
RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM
That grand meditation on life’s transience unfailingly inspires my creative imagination. A timeless philosophy that entwines mystical beauty and carpe-diem sensuality – blessing us into a heightened consciousness in which we recognise that ‘‘this moment is our life’’: ‘‘Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,/ Before we too into the Dust descend;/ Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,/ Sans wine, sans Song, sans Singer and – sans End!’’
I turn to Anna Karenina for Tolstoy’s unravelling of Anna who, risking everything in her life, surrenders to an adulterous passion for a man who understands nothing about her. I read it for Tolstoy’s storytelling that persuades me to fall in love with Anna, identify with her joys and sorrows – even though she lived in the 19th century, and in Russia, a country that I am yet to visit. Great storytelling makes all this possible.
ROMULUS MY FATHER
In his memoir Raimond Gaita brings us up close to the wasteland of the Victorian outback. A setting that foregrounds a mindset – isolation and alienation, mental degeneration and familial disintegration. In all this, Rai – the entrancing child – whose innocence sheds a luminous halo around the tragedy. And the philosopher’s voice of Gaita reflecting … Perhaps it was Gaita who led me to the distilled fragrance of the Victorian outback in my own novel, My Van Gogh.
Wuthering Heights personifies the Romantic Sublime in the Cathy-Heathcliff relationship – that highest ideal encompassing body and soul, where individual identity means nothing but melts into the other, where Cathy says, ‘‘I am Heathcliff! … He’s … my own being’’. As a teenager hidden in our guava tree in Sri Lanka, I dreamt that one day, I would be Cathy. When Jennifer Strauss launched My Van Gogh she observed that the Romantic Sublime is the ideal in it.