Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stable Horses by Vihanga Perera

According to C.S. Kaushalyan, the protagonist in the novel Stable Horses, the Salalihini Sandeshaya nor the Hansa Sandeshaya are epic poems. Consider his statement in Vihanga Perera’s new Gratiaen shortlisted novel: “To say the least, none of the Lankan writers had ever – ever - versed in epic formats.” But perhaps he didn’t know of our epic poems existence and for that he could be forgiven in making such a broad statement. But I do hope that statement is not a reflection of Vihanga Perera’s personal opinion.
Just weeks after the Gratiaen Prize shortlist, I picked up a copy of the book.
The very first sentence, the very first paragraph was unfortunately replete with akwardness, missing articles, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes that are so numerous, they cannot be listed. The sentence construction of the whole novel was also clumsy and graceless but that could be a particular style and I could get used to it, if it was consistent. Think Animal’s People by Indra Sinha or Londonstani by Gautam Malkani. The point was that it wasn’t. Even though the blurb at the back says: “It is the story of his entering a literary competition. With the necessity of winning. With the urge to rhyme it to the top.” The novel itself other than for the introduction is nothing about the literary competition but rather about the complexities of life and growing up.
Perhaps Vihanga Perera is writing for an uber intelligent reader. And that I confess, I am not. For us average readers, this book was confusing in the chapter arrangement, confusing in the presentation of ideas, confusing in the use of language, confusing in the theme. I admit that it was a tough read for me. The book begins with informing the reader the book is to be submitted to the prestigious GoldenFoot prize. Everybody and their grandmother knows that this is a reference to the Gratiaen Prize. Ok, so the judges may have had a little giggle at that ‘clever’ reference. Then the ‘novel’ but it really is a series of interconnected short stories, with pompous and vague titles, stumbles through a series of themes: A young man working unhappily in an advertising agency, arranges to meet a young woman later that day. We are then taken into a chapter that delves on an attempt at writing poetry or song, I am not sure which. To tell you the truth it is not that good. But perhaps that is point the author is trying to depict. Then there is a little aside about saving drowning ants in the loo, a little pseudo- philosophizing and then we are moved abruptly onto a lover’s parting. Perhaps one of the better chapters. After that a school teachers funeral, a rambling on the last year of school, and then onto another good chapter on rejection at love again. Then more bad trite chapters and a good chapter. It goes on and on.
Oh dear! I am rather upset. Here I am, an amateur reviewer who has not read the winning submission at the Gratiaen and is reviewing now the second Gratiaen shortlist and its not going well either, I am beginning to wonder if something is wrong with me! Perhaps I cannot appreciate good writing by our good Sri Lankan authors. It must be me because the alternative thought that the Gratiaen judges could be wrong, is too disturbing.
What really bugs me about this book, is that the author spent a few weekends in his newspaper column complaining about the difference between Sri Lankan English and Standard English and then I find that this book is nothing but Sri Lankan English and written badly at that!
Don’t get me wrong Vihanga Perera has potential. His writing has moments of being funny, clever, witty, etc but to get there you have to wade through numerous hours of pure rubbish. So in the end, I don’t think its worth it at all. At this rate, I have to take back my previous review on the Gratiaen shortlist and say that Anthea was much better! Trite, but much better.