Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Arathi by Nihal de Silva

Nihal de Silva writes his best book and then dies before finishing it. Readers will know that I am not a Nihal de Silva fan. I couldn't understand for the life of me why people were raving about The Road from Elephant Pass ( for me it was a romantic drivel that was too politically correct, completely unrealistic, badly written and an excuse for a little ornithological walk in the park). Ginirella while having a good premise was so badly written that I couldn't finish it. And then comes Arathi. What a book! The narrative shifts between the reality of a young hip advertising executive who purchases a used computer and discovers secret files within files. He manages to crack the code and read the content of the files. The book is presented with alternating chapters of the present and the past (which reveal the diary of a man involved in the gun running trade). They come to a head when the LTTE and crooked officers in the armed forces are both on the hunt for the computer, some stolen money stashed away, a young girl (Arathi) who may hold the key, and the young executive who finds himself in a situation way over his head. All the ingredients for a stunning thriller.

The prose is brutal - terse, tense, holding back no punches, Nihal has successfully infiltrated the mind of a young man who enters an unfamiliar world. Reading it in one go, from start to finish over a weekend the futileness of his death is rammed home continuously. You cannot escape it. Having appeared to have done his homework Nihal recreates a very realistic scenario set during the CFA. With not one reference to wild life he takes us on a fast paced urban journey of the hunter and the hunted. If there were any slip-ups it was that he used the outdated name for Dharmapala Mawatha (I had to ask someone where this Turret Road was?) which was the only indication to me (if I was not aware of his background) that he was someone of an older generation. His hero also used the term 'darling' a bit too liberally with almost everyone. Glossing over the actual part where hero and heroine fall in love (it seems to happen almost instantaneously and without choice) he does a fairly realistic portrayal of a young man in love. The darn book finishes at a crucial point. Vijitha Yapa has issued a challenge for someone to finish the story but to my mind I just cannot think of how it could possibly end. Possibly the only person who could do it would be David Blacker (author of A Cause Untrue). I do hope he takes up the challenge. As you know I am a sucker for covers and this one just does not do the book justice. It is washed out and boring. The way the book is designed is also confusing as there are hardly any breaks to indicate time jumps and situation changes. But those lapses are forgiven because the story line is so good. It was tiresome to give bad book reviews one after the other, so I am so glad that this Book fair purchase was utterly and totally worth it!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Unplugged Quarter by Vihanga Perera

Oh it is the beginning of the Book Fair and I have already got away with stacks and stacks of books. I will certainly go back again middle of the week to stock up even more. This year it was kind of messy with stalls not in their usual places and me getting annoyed with having to deal with the rain and the mud and the crowds who seem to come for other reasons other than books. The long walk from the parking lot was enough to deter even the most die hard book lover but it is an event that I just do not miss. Call me a total boring bookworm but I honestly get goose bumps from being in a place that has all these books. Book fair - Rock on!

In one of the comments to a previous blog entry (The Prince), someone recommended Vihanga Perera's Unplugged Quarter. As I had reviewed a previous book of his ( Stable Horses, in May 2009) I thought it might be interesting to review his newest book. In a previous review I read of this book by someone whose name I cannot quite remember (a foreign girl I think) the reviewer compared Vihanga Perera to Aristophanes. Yep, she did! And I was quite surprised. Aristophanes after all is a very big deal. After reading this book, I think she got it wrong. Vihanga is no Aristophanes, instead he is closer perhaps to James Joyce in his word play and combinations.

Unplugged Quarter is certainly a more mature book than Stable Horses. If I remember right, I just didn't like Stable Horses. This book is different. There is a story line of some sort. The writing except for some instances is mostly smooth. It stays amusing.

Very quickly, the story concerns the Head of the Department (written throughout the book like that which after being funny became annoying) Vahanya Bertolt (!!!! her parents must have hated her) referred to as Bertolt Breast by the uni students and her live in uncle Bheem. They both live in a collapsing house. It would not be a Vihanga Perera book if there was no reference to the university system and university students. So they duly appear. Peradeniya university and English Honours students: Sri, Manishka, Poornaka, Nipunika, Kesha Godapola and a student constantly referred to as Sucked Cock - Nishadi Denagama; then there is a failed guitarist Nayana who is related to the Head of the Department and who is in hiding from some sordid escapade with a young girl in Negombo. I believe those are the main characters. A series of sub characters enter and exit throughout the book. There is a chapter entitled Aeschylus or Euripides where two university professors go head to head in a poetic encounter. Does this actually happen in the University of Peradeniya? If it does kudos to them, because it told me of the existence of a vibrant artistic culture that I did not know existed. Perhaps the English lit graduates of our university system have quite a different experience from those in other departments.Earlier in the book there is a discussion of Nihal de Silva's The Road from Elephant Pass by the students. I for one will agree with them in their interpretation. I seem to be the exception to the rule and really didn't like the way the book was written and couldn't believe that people fell hook line and sinker for the pc drivel! But that is another review.

Anyway back to the book - I actually didn't have a big problem with this book. True the writing is uneven. True, Vihanga Perera has flashes of brilliance, and wittiness and true talent but it peters out all too fast. There are nice references to ideas, music, situations and wicked and sarcastic asides. Vihanga's strength is that he conveys student life so accurately. Unlike Chucking the Dragon, the very names, the very language, the very attitude smack of authenticity and doesn't seem to be written just for the sake of a good read. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Dragon, but it didn't feel quite authentic.

All this leads me to believe that eventually Vihanga Perera will produce the great Sri Lankan novel - well I certainly won't be surprised if he does so, but does he have to inflict his journey towards it on us. I have decided that I must be a masochist as I keep on reading his work. Therefore, perhaps it would be wise for me not to review Vihanga Perera's future work until I read the great Sri Lankan novel that he shows promise of writing.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tea and Me by Chanima Wijebandara

As reviews of poetry books have been requested, off I trotted over to my neighbourhood bookshop to see the pickings. Tea and me by Chanima Wijebandara caught my eye. Firstly I love the yellow bookcover and secondly because the book was slim, I thought I could read it quickly and review it before the week is up. Divided into three parts - we begin with a poem that cries out at the injustice of society when one is a woman. While there were some awkward parts, you cannot deny the poem was written straight from the heart and that is what makes it appealing. There is undeniably a strong feminist streak that runs through most of the poems. While some poems are mawkish in their depiction of love, there are others that are strong and vibrant. For example a favourite poem is

The New "pound of Flesh"

The sophisticated modern man
who saved me
from the stereotypical tragedy,
took my heart,
took my hand
and soared to unknown heights,
and glorified the
unconventional woman in me,
after six years and a half
now wants
three children
three meals
and six cups of tea a day
from me
to continue!

Is there a new Vivimarie in the making? Other poems are Cocktail - an amusing description of the hollow and brief encounters at what else but a cocktail party; File Delayed - makes one think on what is important in life and that have been missed amidst the pressures of work; Marriage - is a startlingly good poem that reveals the facade of a violent marriage. One of the things I loved about Vivimarie's poetry is how she took everyday events and highlighted the mundane or particular social issues in a few lines. Chanima seems to closely follow in Vivimarie's footsteps. She has passion and there is outrage. Two things that can fuel the writing of good poetry. However, I feel that she needs to mature in her writing. Undoubtedly, Chanima Wijebandara has talent. She has important things to say about life and love and social issues. Tea and me for a first attempt at writing poetry is commendable but it has room for improvement. Like the title, I will await Chanima's second publication and hope that she has let it steep and brew awhile before it goes to press.
On another note, the Colombo Book Fair starts in a few days time. Oh Goody! You can bet that I will be there stocking up on books to do more reviews on. See ya there!