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.


  1. Do you actually call these things "reviews"? Why don't you do all of us a service and call them by what they actually are -- lengthy, self-absorbed diatribes on an art-form that you seem to only barely understand?

  2. Hello Michael,Thank you for visiting my site. Happily you need not visit it any more if you do not like what I write :) These reviews that I write are entirely subjective. I am not an English scholar or a professor, I am merely a reader and I believe I have a right to have an opinion on the books I read. Yes, I blog about them, but the nice things about blogs, is that you are not forced to read them! So do me a service ....

  3. Boo you Michael! I love Egghead's blog!