"Victorian (pen-in-cheek) Vignettes" is based upon the Victoria Institution and its alumni, and the Malaya Hall community in London. The Victoria Institution being a secondary school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which upholds the British public school tradition for Malays, Chinese and Indians in the capital. The classical literary flow of the first half of the book is abruptly broken in the second half (starting with vignette no. 7), as that portion takes on a style and character more likened to a gossipy and trivial (albeit saucy and humorous) quasi-historical account from the author's perspective (more specifically that of a cat named Timmy). I personally found the first half of the book to be of greater interest to myself as a reader who lacks even the most rudimentary historical, political and social knowledge of Malaysia or first hand experience of the Victorian Institution and Malay Hall. However, the storytelling by Timmy the cat is nonetheless entertaining even though not all world readers will have the necessary background to glean the most out of this writing.
The first section of the book (Vignettes one through six) is quite magical. On the surface, this collection of vignettes appears to be loosely strung together - much as a set of heirloom pearls on a threadbare necklace - and written in authentic twentieth century descriptive literary style. The effect of these rather peculiar vignettes is somewhat reminiscent of Ravel's glittering yet playfulValses nobles et sentimentales, as each vignette is in essence a pond reflection of the previous one(s) - thus giving an impressionistic feel to the dance through this odd construction of tales. However, these vignettes are also written in a style that recalls the masterful storytelling of Voltaire : Candide-esque and a bit "naughty" in that they are written both with the purpose of amusing and challenging the insider group of former Victorians, as well as serving as a playful betrayal of "secrets" to the uninitiated. Moreover, the overall work lends itself to the philosophy of the author in regards to Poïetics - with its much ado about nothing other than the embellishment of the boring ... and giving equal weight to both fact and fiction.
The author's incorrigibility - falling short of the outright impudence of an "enfant terrible" -- and his inherent understanding of Asian and French sarcastic wit and humor lend to these vignettes a delicious edge whereby the inclination is to laugh ... but in a guarded fashion. This because inside ourselves we readers know that each expression of the adventurous and unwitting Fool must also be accompanied by a good measure of apprehension, for no one is to be trusted absolutely - not the police, not our colleagues, not doctors or lawyers or bureaucratic systems ... and perhaps not even ourselves.
On a slightly less positive note, I would comment that T.Wignesan occasionally breaks the magic he creates by failing to adjust the content length, endings and transitions in some passages - thus running the risk of both overcrowding with too much information and abandoning an otherwise sparkling quality with overhurried endings (eg. Vignette no. 6). This is a challenge for all writers but is of particular importance when working with collections of short works which should both function as separate, individual pieces and interlocking parts of a larger jigsaw puzzle. The solutions available are many but the decisionmaking process is often rather difficult - especially when the author is struggling to simplify information along with complicated techniques, style and language.
That being said, the "Victorian Vignettes" are an interesting and entertaining read.
T.Wignesan employs the same fundamental signature storytelling style in his novel published in the same year by Cyberwit : "The Night Soil Man". In "The Night Soil Man" T.Wignesan weaves yet another tale using social commentary and sarcasm - and inciting more than a few snickers from this reviewer. Mr. Wignesan is no stand-up comic, but rather an intellectual who uses his insight and command of language to question the status quo. His wit is - surely - a formidable weapon; and his ability to wield that sword so adeptly makes him a dangerous man (un homme dangereux).
"The Night Soil Man" is a unique work : well-crafted and well-written. Chapter two features a bit of stream of consciousness style writing that I would compare to the writing of William Burroughs at its best. Here the author describes "shit" in a social context and using a riveting narrative style that only contemporary Asian bad boy authors can master. Without giving the story line away, I can promise the reader a roller-coaster ride deep into the depths of societal muck and complete with sensory stimulation.
This novel has the artistic quality of effortlessness - achieving natural balance between the difficult and the relatively simple, and possessing an aplomb that suggests that the work has essentially written itself.
I recommend "The Night Soil Man" both as a cultural and social study and as a thought-provoking story with relevance beyond its time period and geographical setting.
In conclusion, I would describe the spirit of these two ambitious literary works that insist upon not taking themselves too seriously by quoting Henri de Régnier - whose words appear in Maurice Ravel's dedication at the top of the score of his Valses nobles et sentimentales : "le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d'une occupation inutile" (the delightful and always novel pleasure of a useless occupation).
by Adam Donaldson Powell, 2009
Adam Donaldson Powell (Norway) is a multilingual author and a literary critic, writing in English, Spanish, French and Norwegian; and a visual artist. He has published several collections of poetry, essays, novellas and short stories: in the USA, Norway and India , as well as art photography criticism and literary criticism in publications (both print and electronic) based in the Americas, Europe and Asia . He has previously authored theatrical works performed on-stage, and he has (to date) read his poetry at venues in New York City (USA), Oslo (Norway), Buenos Aires (Argentina ), and Kathmandu (Nepal).