Sunday, March 7, 2010

Serendipity by Ashok Ferrey

Having read and enjoyed Ferrey's first collection of short stories Colpetty People and not enjoyed as much his second collection of short stories, The Good Little Ceylonese Girl, I was most interested to se if this good short story writer could make the transition to good novelist.

Serendipity is a bit of a ramble. Its an all over the place kind of novel. It could work. But does it, is the important question? Piyumi Segarajasingham, the unlikeable shallow promiscuous heroine leaves her discontented mother behind in London to return to Sri Lanka to deal with a personal crisis. In between she seems to have been recruited by a man named Skanda, a front man for an unnamed organisation, to do God knows what. An underqualified Pole named Marek who falls madly in love with Piyumi over a carton of guava juice finds himself 'serendipitiously' on the same plane as her going to teach at an International School in Colombo. A lesbian activist Deb, who head the badly named 'Women in Want, is in love with Piyumi. A trishaw driver named Viraj is in love first with Deb, because she is white and then settles for Piyumi because she is there. Then you have a motley assortment of other characters - Mrs Herath and her sister Mrs Fonseca (the Minister's wife). You have Mrs Fonseca's daughter whom they want to arrange a match for with Marek! Meanwhile, we are not spared the shenanigan's of Marek's mother who begins an affair with her neighbour Dennis Ridoynauth (Where on earth does he finds these names?) Suranganee the recalcitrant cook at Aunty Chelvam's (don't ask?) is young, nubile and sharp tongued. By now I am totally confused as the list of characters go on and on - the back text says over twenty!

Now, I have a problem with so many characters. They remain just so - characters as Ferrey takes neither the time nor trouble to develop any of them. They remain caricatures with clever and not so clever one liners that don't mean anything very much in the end. May she rest in pieces (after a bomb attack), Boom-fuck-a-boom-fuck-a-boom (to describe the said bomb). The Shadow Minister for Ports would actually prefer a brandy and on and on it goes. Sometimes it is too much.

Then Ferrey uses the most wierd names. I am sure he thinks he is being clever (and there is no doubt that man is clever). Mogambo International School; Lawyers Bilious and Dicey; The National Anthem is sung as: No more, No more, No more Martha-a-a; The Head master's name is Percy ffinch- Percy; the name of the cafe is Fuk-a-Luk, the name of the removal van is Truk-a-Luk. Ferrey must learn the art of restraint.

Now the book markets itself as a satire. Just what is satire? It is defined as a text or performance that uses irony, derision, or wit to expose or attack human vice, foolishness or stupidity. There is plenty of that in the book, but I am uncertain if Ferrey uses irony, or derision or wit to expose any of them. What he does use in good liberal doses is ridicule. Sometimes below the belt, sometimes viciously. I expect satire to have some depth, that unfortunately you will not find here. Though from his writing you know that Ferrey is vastly capable.

Another problem I find with Ferrey's writing is that its all the same. Which ever book you read, you will find the same phrases, same plot, same kind of characters etc. The man can certainly write but it is like a recipe that he follows all the time, every time. With Ferrey, we have a writer who sells himself short. He writes well, his writing is different, it is clean, polished and sometimes shows a glimmer of sophistication. But Ferrey thinks his readers are stupid. The story line is dummified, the cliches (by his own admission he says the book is rife with cliches) abound and I am positively sure I have read of of the same lines in his other books.

He is also sloppy in his writing. I believe there is a time lag here. The book is set in the 1980s, Piyumi Segarajsingham who was a little girl when she left the country in 1983, can no way qualify and practice as a barrister even in 1989!! unless she was a genius and there is no indication of that! Then on page 126 Ferrey slips up and calls Women in Want after the real name of the NGO he has modeled it.

There seems to be nothing too sacred for Ferrey to have included in this book: white vans, Golden Key, terrorism, class, caste, NGOs, sexuality, bomb attacks, security check points, interns, fitness freaks, gyms, elections, election posters and so on. Michelle de Kretser at the Galle Literary Festival, said that some of the things you leave out tell a story more effectively than all that you put in. Ferrey needs to listen to his inner voice more.

On the whole the book for me was a large dissapointment. Ferrey while having the talent to write unfortunately plays to the gallery. The people who buy and like his book are a reflection of the society he laughs at. But this particular book is crammed with too much and yet there is no decent story line. You don't get caught up in the character's lives- you don't laugh with them or cry with them. Instead you are supposed to laugh at them all the way, all the time. I can't do that. I get tired.


  1. I read his book too, and totally agree with you. He should stop laughing AT people and stop writing about communities he doesnt have a clue about. E.g. the "three wheel kariyar" Jeez, what kind of snobbery is that. I also agree with you that he tries to 'tackle' too many issues and ends up not even scratching the surface of these issues.

  2. Hello there, off topic I'm afraid but I'm hoping you can help. At a get-togehter of book bloggers in London yesterday I was trying to remember the title(s) or author of a Sri Lankan novel I read some time ago. I think there were either two or three books and they were set around the time of the troubles in the 1950s / 1960s. They are supposed to be very famous, and have been compared to the Buru Quartet in Indonesia, but I have been unable to track them down on the internet, and have lost my own copies. Any suggestions?

    My blog is at

  3. Oh dear sorry Pursewarden but I am afraid, I do not know these books. Perhaps if someone else does, they can write in.