The Gooneratnes’ mountain bungalow, overlooking rippling tea plantations, is called Pemberley, after Mr Darcy’s mansion. A wall plaque commemorates Elizabeth Bennet’s description of it. In the style of a modern Jane Austen, Yasmine Gooneratne takes up the enduring and universal question of who will marry whom, as Vikram Seth did in his mega-novel A Suitable Boy (1994), and at similarly entertaining length. The topic is Bollywood’s favourite too, but before writing The Sweet and Simple Kind, Professor Gooneratne, a specialist in eighteenth-century fiction and poetry, had not seen the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Not that she would be likely to. DVDs are much less important to the Gooneratnes than books, and conversation more valued than television. After contributing for three decades to the academic and medical life of Sydney, Yasmine and Brendon returned to Colombo a few years ago. They keep their distance from today’s troubled politics in their tear-shaped – or pear-shaped – country. As co-authors of This Inscrutable Englishman (1999), they recalled a British colonial period more benign – at least for their ancestors – than was the Raj in India. The British certainly made cultural converts in Ceylon, as Sri Lankan book lovers in Australia such as Ernest McIntyre, Michelle de Kretser and the Gooneratnes show.