Serendipity by Ashok Ferrey

16 March, 2010

I wasn’t really sure about writing this review. I really enjoyed Ferrey’s two previous volumes of short stories, Colpetty People and The Good Little Ceylonese Girl, with their witty observations of people from the countries in which Ferrey lived before returning to Sri Lanka 20 years ago. And of course the infamous Colombo crowd. Ferrey’s prose is engaging, clever and colourful with frequent use of the local lingo.

Ferrey describes his first novel Serendipity as a collection of loosely connected short stories. We meet various characters from Piyumi, the lawyer from London who returns to Sri Lanka after failing in her career and love, Marek, the Polish builder who leaves his mother, and his father’s house which is being sold off in pieces, for a new job as a teacher in Colombo, to Debs the gay NGO worker. And we can’t forget the politicians scrambling to the top of the dung heap of Sri Lankan politics (including a character named Fonseka whom Ferrey vehemently denies was deliberate – and what a serendipitous coincidence since the Sri Lankan elections were just announced when the book was published.)

There are several plot points from a suspicious insurgent group plotting attacks from a London newsagents, a tuk-tuk driver trying to make his way out of his slummy existance and the fate of Serendipity, Piyumi’s ancestral home, which her relatives who all live abroad want to sell off.

The book is well written and Ferrey has a certain way with words that is very slick. Maybe even a little too clever, but that’s never a bad thing. It’s just that I didn’t really respond to Piyumi. I couldn’t understand her choices and I couldn’t sympathise with all the awful things that happened to her. However I did like Marek and his heartbreaking naiveté. Maybe some of the characters were too outlandish for me, I’m not sure. And the ending wasn’t one that I expected (which isn’t a bad thing either, but it wasn’t what I was looking for) and left me wanting more.

At the GLF 2010, Ferrey did a reading of Seredipity with some of his friends and it was a colourful experience which brought his novel alive.

Sometimes a book just doesn’t resonate with what you are looking for, and this one didn’t as much as his short stories. But I’m certainly looking forward to his next one.

I read this as part of the South Asian Author Challenge.

6 Responses to “Serendipity by Ashok Ferrey”

  1. Fëanor Says:

    The only Sri Lankan writers I’ve read are Ondaatje and Selvadurai, so this is a welcome tip. Thanks. Took a look at the challenge you referred to, and am puzzled by why Bhutan and Nepal are not included in South Asia. Or Maldives?

  2. Nymeth Says:

    I’m sorry to hear this didn’t live up to your expectations! I’m intrigued, though, as I tend to like books of interconnected stories for some reason.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I think I just didn’t really like the characters much. They seemed a little stereotypical and simplified. But I think the novel was meant to be a comic and light read.

  3. Vindi Says:

    I agree with you on not being sure about what to have expected with Ferrey, but I don’t think I emerged from it satisfied either. I think the main issue with the novel’s prot/antagonists is the fact that they are caricatures rather than characters. It was a little too soap-operatic for my liking.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Hello! Caricatures is exactly the word I’d use to describe Ferrey’s characters. I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth to them, but I think it was more a plot-driven rather than a character-driven novel.

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