Set in a five Colombo beach resort in times more tranquil than Sri Lanka’s turbulent present, Amanda Jayatissa’s new novel, You’re Invited, begins when a young woman named Amaya notices dried blood under her fingernails and bruises on her knuckles just before her former best friend Kaavi weds Amaya’s ex-boyfriend, Spencer. Moments later, Amaya hears a knock on the door. Kaavi is missing and a search for her is underway. The mystery may appear solved before the story begins, but there are plenty and twists and turns to come. For the first two-thirds of the book, the chapters finish with an investigator’s interview with a member of the bride’s family or one of the guests. This structure gives voice to more than just the main characters and after each interview there seems to be another possible suspect in Kaavi’s disappearance.
Amaya has a compulsive personality, always looking for numbers that will bring her good luck, whether it’s the time on a digital clock or a number on a room key. She also has a habit of imagining horrific endings for friends and acquaintances who say something to annoy her, even if these comments are not directed at her. But it’s the Colombo setting that gives this book extra flavor, starting with Amaya’s childhood home. Her British father had long returned to England and her Sri Lankan mother had passed away from cancer years earlier.
The house itself worked in layers. The outer ring was the veranda, which was dotted with large cane armchairs that were perfect for snoozing or reading. My mother never really used them, from what I can remember, and neither did I. The next ring was after you step inside the front door—the open corridor that led to our rooms… And finally, the last ring. The epicenter around which the house has been built. A spacious open courtyard sat right in the middle of the house, where a large Araliya tree spread its branches. When the flowers bloomed and the smell wafted through the house, it was like my mother hadn’t left at all.
Amaya and Kaavi were childhood friends in an exclusive neighborhood—Colombo 07—who both end up going to university in San Francisco. It’s in the Bay Area that Amaya meets Matthew Spencer—who goes by his surname—and the two date until they suddenly break up after graduation. She also has a falling out with Kaavi and the two go their separate ways. Now in her late twenties, Kaavi has become an Instagram influencer back in Colombo with her charity to help educate low-income Sri Lankan girls. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Amaya, who out of envy has been stalking Kaavi on Instagram with fake accounts. Out of the blue, Kaavi invites Amaya to her wedding to the ex-boyfriend Spencer. Amaya is angry and curious enough to fly back to Colombo from California to see this wedding for herself.
The wedding was held at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, a real hotel with a history of more than 200 years; iIn the novel, it’s the same venue where Kaavi’s parents wed decades ago. Once Amaya was led out of her room while her room was searched for signs of Kaavi, she noticed hotel staff all around her that brought her back to another era.
There were security guards swarming everywhere I looked, as well as in-house guards. The security were in beige and brown, sticking out against the old portraits and colonial interior of the hotel, but the in-house guards were decked out in their postcolonial glory—white knee-length shorts, white knee-high socks, and wide-brimmed white safari hats. It was like stepping into a time capsule whenever I saw them.
The story is not told in chronological order and jumps around between the different days leading up to and after Kaavi’s disappearance. Several days before that, Amaya speaks with some of the aunties and they start making comments about Los Angeles, where Amaya now lives. One of the aunties starts in on the differences between Americans and the British.
“And you know, no matter what, I just can’t understand what those Americans are saying half the time. They are butchering the English language, I tell you. Absolutely butchering it.” Another round of laughter. Sri Lankan aunties have always been more protective of the queen’s English than the queen herself.
Jayatissa combines humor with local color for an engaging mystery in a place near and dear to her.