Postcards to Bentham is Vihanga Perera’s most recent short story collection and it is strikingly different from The(ir) (Au)topsy, his earlier collection published in 2006. Postcards to Bentham consists of seven short stories which are of absorbing interest covering almost all the aspects of the society.
As a short corpus, Postcards to Bentham manages to focus on a range of social issues, while Vihanga manages to maintain an even balance in the collection. When presenting these stories to the readers it’s perceivable that the writer has been cautious not to make the characters in the stories be driven by emotions. The way the characters behave throughout the book is realistic and not much exaggerated.
Teacher of Baffo, the first story in the book, is fabricated around the fantasy of a Classical Literature teacher, and about an unsophisticated woman named Sumangalika, the mother of his student. Vihanga develops the relationship between the two characters in a crafty way arousing the curiosity of the reader adding to it a cinematic effect, while giving the story an unexpected, suspenseful ending.
“ Ravichandra, actually , I am calling to discuss about our class…”
‘Our’ class, as in yours and mine.
“Well, we can’t do that class at home, if at all, we may have to do it elsewhere.”
“Please don’t misunderstand-it’s just that my husband… Well. I have to make sure my husband doesn’t get to know…”
The Colonel’s Wife is another story which discusses about the plight of a married woman who pretends to be satisfied about her marriage life, but is not. The woman falls in love with another man, a poet, in order to be loved and understood.
“The poet tells me that what Sheersha- our mistress – seeks in him is desire and lust in a mutually satisfying act.”
My Generation can be considered as a political satire which criticizes the corrupt politics and politicos of Sri Lanka. Vihanga implements memorable irony and sarcasm tactfully throughout the story awakening the reader from an illusion about her own surroundings. And I’d like to say that this as my favorite from all the seven stories in the collection.
“ … I am helpless and I don’t know how I am going to raise a kid, if I was to end up with one tomorrow, and was I to be long-term suspended to a blue collar starched white.”
It’s something obvious that the writer has been experimenting on the short stories, having not been influenced by the styles and trends dominant in world Literature or Sri Lankan Literature; which is a plus point since he has developed and executed his own style throughout Postcards to Bentham. So I hope he would continue his uniqueness even in his future writings.
Another aspect which should be admired in this collection is that the writer’s attempt in persuading the readers to view the life in a realistic way without being lost in a fantasy. Therefore the writer has not given any miraculous end to any of his stories in order to make the readers look deep into the life and the prevailing system. The book deserves to be described as multidimensional.
Many of the stories in Postcards to Bentham focus on human behaviour and the complex and the complicated nature of human relationships. Vihanga reveals the harsh reality of the life and the society in a subtle way. These stories are full of partial glimpses into the life of people and deal with a fair segment of contemporary life and relationships in a relatable Lankan context.
[This short review was submitted by Kanchana Priyakantha to be shared through this space]