If you are all idleness and in the lookout for some “out of the box” reading experience, let me suggest that you take up Vihanga Perera’s The Fear of Gambling. However, prior to set sailing on this literary sea – this is in way of a well-intentioned advice – draw in a long deep breath since what awaits you there is not so smooth a voyage, and please do pardon my resorting to epic terms for – despite that the book might not or might be an epic – to keep track of its irregular narrative strands is some epic exercise indeed.
Postmodern and somewhat Joycean in style, Perera’s FOG is what one might call a literary patchwork – dangling narrative ends stitched together at certain intersections and flashbacks and flashforwards performing the role of clumsy connecting threads. As the individual pieces of a collage would not essentially make an impression in isolation but when contemplated as a whole, so is the effect produced by FOG. Perera’s narrative is such that the structure emerges prominent over the content, or to give it a different wording, the narrative structure itself becomes the more meaningful content.
FOG , moreover, is a literary creation – or undoing of such creation – having the potential to trigger off love-hate like contending responses all at once. One, for instance, is struck by the narrator’s/author’s arrogance in assuming that the reader can be bothered to stay awake or not lose patience through long-drawn accounts of, what he calls, “women-watching” expeditions, or personal idiosyncrasies and interests of some random-appearing characters known to himself – let alone his painstaking serve by serve or ball by ball commentaries on some TT tournaments and “domestic” cricket matches. However, one is simultaneously impressed by his nerve in drawing such conclusions, giving no damn to how others would want his book to turn out – experimental like a gambler, Perera’s FOG, after all, is a consequence of the author conquering his own fear of gambling.
Nevertheless, be aware dear reader, for at the turning of each leaf of FOG there loom the fresh hopes of stumbling on something worthwhile, only to be thwarted and renewed at the next turning. Therefore, do not seek to find a story as such in FOG, but if you hit upon one, well, do enjoy it by all means – for who knows – perhaps you have outwitted the narrator/author there. All the same, at the end of this literary journey, reader, you might fall into either of two categories (of course, this is for the sake of simple classification and does not rule out the possibility of the existence of other marginal categories) – the category of those who smack their lips in satisfaction, or that of those who want to bang their heads against something really solid for being gullible enough to read three hundred and six pages of what proves to be nothing but downright nonsense.
Yet, rest assured, since the capacity of FOG is such that it betrays none, but benefits both these categories of readers – the first by offering them some unorthodox, mind-engaging reading exercise, the second by stimulating their dumb, unimaginative brains via a self-inflicted bang on the head. So, when the author, Vihanga Perera is quoted claiming, “FOG is a book that must be in your bookshelf”, he is by no means lying, and it should be there at least for one of the aforesaid two purposes/reasons.