Evening is the Whole Day There is something of the explorer's satisfaction - the thrill of the new - in reading an assured debut novel and Preeta Samarasan's Evening is the Whole Day delivers this generously. The story centres on the fortunes of the Rajasekharans, a wealthy Tamil Indian family in the town of Ipoh, Malaysia (the France-resident Samarasan's hometown). Set for the most part in the family's 1980 nadir, the back story highlights the time Malaysia's ethnic rivalries came to the fore: its historic 1968 elections. Flashes of this tension within the country's finely balanced demography permeate the book, as do the divisions in class within the Tamil community, personified by the family's social-climbing matriarch Vasanthi and those like her who become the 'new British' after the old ones leave. As this hints, despite the book's Indian-centric nature its observations on race and class relations are fortunately not partisan; nor, thankfully, are they overly intrusive. For at its heart, the story is a simple one: a dysfunctional family, composed of characters wrestling with the demons of broken dreams, guilt and pettiness. This is not new, and some of Samarasan's plot devices - the back-and-forth chronology that strips bare the Rajasekharans, for example, and the regular touches of the fantastical - will be recognisable to many readers. Her deft touch with character, however, eclipses what structural conventionality there is, and is one of the book's strengths, engaging the reader beyond the ability of the many novelists who focus on prose to the detriment of story. An inevitable by-product of life, in Samarasan's depiction, bitterness affects each character in proportion to their age. Younger children Suresh and Aasha are written perceptively and affectionately, despite Aasha's occasional and unsophisticated attempts at scheming. Eldest child Uma is sympathetic, her victim's stance clear even though her vengeance is perhaps ill-directed, while the family's parents and grandmother manifest their disappointments and failures in reprehensible fashion. Slights and more serious actions build on each other until relationships are damaged irreparably, often without other family members even knowing why. The household takes its toll on innocent servant Chellam in a similar way. As perhaps a pointer to human interconnectedness, Samarasan often describes the physical manifestations of such ill-feeling: one character, for example, keeps secrets for so long she gains weight. Ghosts exhibit themselves with grievances undimmed by death. These other-worldly intrusions are both targeted at and perpetrated by all the family members. Only youngest daughter Aasha, though, is aware of them; they make up a significant part of her world, describing in fantasy effects she cannot hope to have in reality, as well as offering ghostly comfort when Uma shuts out the other family members. The book is not without weaknesses. Language is central, and the idiolectic English ('Wah, so clever one your daughter!') will draw familiar smirks from local readers. And what begins as a sprinkling of Tamil and Malay becomes more and can reach the point where it is difficult to interpret. As sure as Samarasan's touch is with most of the family, both father Raju and uncle Balu have moments that feel rushed or somewhat jarring. And Samarasan's predilection for speculating on events as a narrator might not be to all readers' tastes. These points aside, Samarasan has crafted a book with both heart and intelligence, relating a story that is rewarding; a novel cannot do much more than this. Aspects of the style will encourage comparison with Arundhati Roy and others. Samarasan, however, is her own writer, and one with a voice that reflects this hectic and muddled, yet dynamic and familial, region. Subsequent work on a par with this fine debut will see her take a prominent place among modern Asian writers.