Abacus, £13.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

The Road to Urbino, By Roma Tearne

Sri Lanka and Tuscany meet in a finely-crafted novel of art, memory and migration.

The Road to Urbino, artist and novelist Roma Tearne's fifth novel, is the elegantly complicated story of three men and the women who connect them.

Lynton Rasanagium (Ras) is a 50-year-old lonely Sri Lankan attendant at the National Gallery; Charles Boyar a famous art historian who first introduces Ras to the paintings of Piero della Francesca with ominous consequences; and egotistical Alex Benson a perpetually dissatisfied writer who has "the look of a marvellous derelict".

Buy this book from the Independent bookshop

These men are bound together by the women they love: the gracious Delia, "like a ripe yellow Russian plum", the object of Charles's love and Alex's erotic obsession; and Ras's petulant daughter Lola, the light of her father's life. She's as "totally indulged" as her near-namesake Lolita, and just as dangerous to the men around her.

Although the story begins with Ras in prison awaiting trial for the theft of one of Piero's paintings, the events that led up to this moment are the subject of Tearne's narrative. "Every act has a past. Events don't materialize from nowhere," she reminds us. In an attempt to understand her client's motivations, Ras's lawyer sets about piecing together his past: a childhood in war-torn Sri Lanka, relocation to Britain, his failed marriage and subsequent relationship with his daughter, and the road to Urbino in Tuscany, and the gallery on whose walls the Piero hung.

The story of Ras's life is of a man for whom "everything in the world would connect" to the trauma of his childhood: "Sorrow dogged his footsteps and shadowed his vision". Here Tearne draws on her own experience as a displaced Sri Lankan, and her politicised comment is subtly achieved by reading the Piero painting, "The Flagellation", which features three figures in the foreground apparently oblivious to the suffering of Christ, as a larger metaphorical device. But as Ras's life intersects with that of Charles and Alex, we learn that they too have suffered tragedies, all acutely rendered in Tearne's delicate but unforgiving prose.

Tearne has been described as bringing a painter's eye to the canvas of her pages. But this doesn't mean she shies away from that which is ugly. She writes about beauty and horror with the same precision and attention to detail, as well as possessing the rare knack of making the necessary characters believably unlikeable while still engrossing subjects.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk