Friday, September 22, 2006

Borneo Post review

Thanks to dear Georgette for reviewing the book in Kuching, the land of the great want tan mee.

Fiendishly Malaysian

Dark City

My book buddies and I have a long-standing issue with novels set in Malaysia and/or written by Malaysians. They either sound like they’re trying way too hard (usually very adjective-happy, with more sex and gore than necessary) or have a disturbing obsession with World War 2… nothing wrong in itself but can we stop dreaming of the past and move on to the present already?

It happened and I nearly missed it… all because of a mediocre cover and a hardwired aversion to Malaysian books.

‘Dark City’ appeared quietly in the local interest section of certain bookstores in town. I resisted, but reviews in national papers were positive, so I gave in and bought a copy. And wow, what a read that book turned out to be.

This effort by an author only known as Xeus contains 12 stories, each taking place somewhere in Malaysia and each containing that oh-so-important a twist that turns everything you’ve read so far on its head.

It begins by tossing you straight into the deep end. ‘Psychotic’ is a tale of Rachel, a young woman was kidnapped by a rapist and taken on a terrifying ride. The descriptions pulled no punches. The narrative is broken up by flashbacks to childhood, which readers would assume is Rachel's way of dealing with her present situation.

Let's just say that the clues were there all along.

'Trashcan Child', one of my personal favourites, is one of those stories where nothing really earth-moving seems to happen, until the last couple of pages reveals the actual context of the situation. It is about Pearl, who reluctantly adopted dumped baby Patience and raised her to adulthood.

'The Six Million Dollar Man' is the wealthy 60-year old Peter Song, whose selfish ways are about come back to haunt him... in ways you and I probably wouldn't have thought possible.

'The Resistance' describe the plans of a terrorist cell that is about to launch an attack on all of mankind. A flight attendant suspects something, but the perpetrators were way beyond her mild clairvoyant skills. This tale masterfully blends together two hot world issues of the recent years. I was laughing with delight (I'm twisted too, ok?) by the end of it. Incidentally, this is the author's favourite tale as well.

'A Grave Error' is a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe's fascination of being buried alive.

'Monster' sees a spoilt child being kidnapped. The father pays the ransom but didn't anticipate that someone else would want his monster of a son.

A character who was the main player in one story reoccur in a cameo role in other stories, which was pretty neat.

The author reveals little of herself, except that she is a freelance writer with 10 years of newspapers and magazine columns behind her. She did disclose that 'Psychotic' was originally meant for another anthology.

"I was asked to write a compilation of Asian erotica for the European market." she explained in a short email interview. "I started out with the best of intentions, but I cannot write straightforward erotica without twisting the story. When my agent read Psychotic, he gave up on me writing erotica! So Dark City was born."

One would think that opening an anthology with such a graphic tale may cause certain readers to put down the book and miss out on the other, less volatile stories. With the exception of the Singapore library banning her book from their shelves, there's been little such reaction in Malaysia.

But Xeus doesn't expect everyone to like all 12 stories.

"It's very hard to like each and every story in any anthology. Even Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer's collections, I end up only liking 3 or 4." she said.

'Dark City' may not be my epitome of the great Malaysian novel, but it does show that we're finally getting there.

Xeus is currently working on a children's book.

'Dark City' is available at all good bookstores in town.


Argus Lou said...

Lovers of the Kolok Mee, unite! Georgette is an excellent reviewer. She really got into the stories. I liked that she applauded The Resistance.

Xeus said...

Argus, I guess you have to like the genre in the first place. The Malay Mail editor likes the genre as well, as did Georgette.

No use asking a reviewer who doesn't like the genre at all to review this book, like the NST one. Some people like their stories straightforward. That's what makes the world go round.

Yvonne Lee said...

Hey, more thumbs up for you.

BTW, how many reviews/highlight you collected already ah?

Happy for you!

Xeus said...

Not as much as you, very far from it! I will not be able to hold any records! All I have is posted on the sidebar. Not very much, eh?

Yvonne Lee said...

Aiya.....sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit mah!

Lydia Teh said...

Xeus, you go girl! Great review.

Xeus said...

Thanks gals!