Crime & pas­sion

As the lo­cal english lan­guage pub­lish­ing scene keeps grow­ing, we’re see­ing more and more in­ter­est­ing works, like the ones fea­tured here.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Re­view by DAPHNE LEE star2@thes­tar.com.my Re­view by JOEL WIJESURIA star2@thes­tar.com.my FOR the week end­ing Jan 26, 2014:

IOFTEN tell the Malaysians who at­tend my cre­ative writ­ing classes to write about Malaysians and to give their sto­ries a Malaysian set­ting. To me, not writ­ing about our­selves is a wasted op­por­tu­nity.

There is not much Malaysian lit­er­a­ture in English and I feel that fic­tion about Malaysians and Malaysia should, by and large, be writ­ten by us. We can’t ex­pect oth­ers not to tell our sto­ries but we must do so as well.

When a for­eigner writes a Malaysian story, the fo­cus shifts. And I feel the same about Malaysian sto­ries pub­lished by in­ter­na­tional pub­lish­ing houses.

In the lat­ter case, the books are be­ing writ­ten with a for­eign au­di­ence in mind. The au­thors (and pub­lish­ers) might feel com­pelled to over­ex­plain some things, play up oth­ers. In the for­mer case, for­eign­ers nat­u­rally don’t think and feel the same as Malaysians. They don’t have the same insight or con­cerns or bag­gage so it’s not pos­si­ble for them to cre­ate con­vinc­ing Malaysian char­ac­ters.

When I read a Malaysian story writ­ten by a non-Malaysian (be it Frank Swet­ten­ham or W. Som­er­set Maugham, An­thony Burgess or Paul Cal­lan) I feel that they are telling their ver­sion of things and it makes me wish that there were more Malaysian ver­sions to re­dress the bal­ance. As Nige­rian writer Chinua Achebe said, “Al­though the work of re­dress­ing which needs to be done may ap­pear too daunt­ing, I be­lieve it is not one day too soon to be­gin.”

Marc de Faoite is orig­i­nally from Ire­land. He now lives in Langkawi. Trop­i­cal Mad­ness is his first col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, but he has been pub­lished be­fore, in var­i­ous an­tholo­gies, in­clud­ing Sini Sana: Trav­els In Malaysia, Fish Eats Lion, and Love In Pe­nang. De Faoite’s sto­ries fea­ture, ac­cord­ing to the back cover blurb of Trop­i­cal Mad­ness, “gritty back streets” and “re­mote rub­ber es­tates”, “fish­ing boats” and “an­cient rain­forests”, “dark magic”, “trans­sex­u­als”, and “sex slaves” – just what read­ers in search of “ex­otic Asia” want, and also in keep­ing with Fixi Novo’s pulp fic­tion fo­cus.

They are in­ter­est­ing as sto­ries go – de Faoite pro­vides plenty of stir­ring de­tails, du­ti­fully tick­ing all the sense boxes, but th­ese don’t re­veal enough about his char­ac­ters, whom I feel are at the heart of his tales and whose psy­ches are not ad­e­quately ex­plored. Their lives are all dra­matic turns of events, end­ing with shock­ing twists or por­ten­tous state­ments, but the gaudy sur­face smear of vi­o­lence, de­cep­tion, lust and greed give only an im­pres­sion of shape and depth.

Th­ese are ac­tors play­ing the parts de Faoite has writ­ten for them. He tells you what they are and how they feel, and you re­spond be­cause his nar­ra­tives are evoca­tive and en­gag­ing.

How­ever, I didn’t feel any emo­tional con­nec­tion. What lies in the depths of th­ese hearts, what se­cret mo­tives spur them on or hold them back – I caught fleet­ing glimpses of th­ese things, but I didn’t feel them, be­cause de Faoite does not let the reader get close enough. Per­haps be­cause he’s not close enough him­self.

It goes back to the dif­fi­culty in un­der­stand­ing what it’s like to be a Malaysian, in imag­in­ing what is it’s like to feel and be­lieve cer­tain things, and think in cer­tain ways. This is ex­pected, but as the sto­ries at­tempt to por­tray the lives of Malaysians and their strug­gles, one ex­pects a more thor­ough ex­plo­ration of the be­liefs, prac­tices and at­ti­tudes de­picted.

At least the au­thor writes with em­pa­thy – his char­ac­ters may be play­ing roles, but th­ese are flesh-and­blood, liv­ing-and-breath­ing parts that the au­thor has imag­ined quite clearly al­beit some­what shal­lowly.

De Faoite sim­ply needs to do some bur­row­ing, through their messy guts and down to their throb­bing hearts and bare bones. He needs not just to imag­ine his char­ac­ters’ pain, their de­sires, fears and joys, but feel all th­ese emo­tions enough to trans­late them into words that don’t just pro­duce a pass­ing thrill but cre­ate a last­ing im­pres­sion.

Malaysia has been, for some time now, de Faoite’s home. I would say that he should not be seen as an out­sider but con­sid­ered part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity of writ­ers who must carry out the afore­men­tioned work of re­dress­ing.

In de Faoite’s case, there is re­ally the ad­van­tage of hav­ing lived on both sides of the di­vide. His ex­pe­ri­ences as an ex­pa­tri­ate could be fod­der for sto­ries that, be­cause he is now res­i­dent and has, pre­sum­ably, deeper in­sights into Malaysian life, could avoid the con­de­scen­sion and flip­pancy that are a fea­ture of the work of many Western au­thors writ­ing about Asia and Asians.

Ac­tu­ally, I won­der at the ab­sence of this point of view in this col­lec­tion – might de Faoite have feared com­ing across as pa­tro­n­is­ing? I think this dan­ger is avoid­able if a writer is aware of it, and ap­proaches a story sym­pa­thet­i­cally and hon­estly.

I look for­ward to more sto­ries from de Faoite. I look for­ward to see­ing him grow as an au­thor, es­pe­cially in terms of one who writes about the peo­ple he has cho­sen to live among.

Needs some vroom

ro­zlan Mohd noor Sil­ver­fish books, 250 pages, fic­tion RO­ZLAN Noor’s lat­est crime thriller, un­like his last three books (of the much-ac­claimed In­spec­tor Mis­lan se­ries), is told from the point of view of the crim­i­nal. The premise of the story is grand, and the au­thor seems to have a solid vi­sion of the en­tire ca­per, which has Danny Ocean lev­els of plan­ning in­volved.

Bayu, which means “wind” in Malay, is a mas­ter crim­i­nal, known through­out the in­ter­na­tional un­der- world as “The Plan­ner” for his uncanny abil­ity to plan and carry out ma­jor heists with­out be­ing caught.

For his last ca­per be­fore re­tire­ment, the mas­ter crim­i­nal de­cides to kid­nap a for­eign na­tional in the hopes of pit­ting his wits against the best law-en­force­ment per­son­nel in the world. What he doesn’t re­alise is that the tar­get is the grand­son of the US Sec­re­tary of State. What should have been a sim­ple kid­nap and ran­som op­er­a­tion is sud­denly turned into a ter­ror­ist hunt with the CIA, US Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions, and Is­lamic ter­ror­ist groups get­ting in­volved. Bayu has taken on a lot more than he bar­gained for.

Un­for­tu­nately, most of the book is spent try­ing to con­vince us that the pro­tag­o­nist, the self-styled “Bayu”, is a mas­ter plan­ner with­out ac­tu­ally re­veal­ing any of the plan­ning. This takes away greatly from the reader’s en­joy­ment of the story as we are told over and over again how com­plex this plan is and how famed the main char­ac­ter is as a crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind.

Another neg­a­tive as­pect of this book is what seems to be bad edit­ing. Not hav­ing read the au­thor’s pre­vi­ous works, I am un­fa­mil­iar with his style of writ­ing. How­ever, there are parts of the text that read al­most as though they were writ­ten by two dif­fer­ent writ­ers. As­sum­ing that the voice of the au­thor is writ­ten in ma­ture prose, there are sev­eral places in the text where it seems that a much younger writer is fill­ing in the blanks.

There are also some spelling mis­takes, and the feel of the book seems cheap­ened to me by the over­all qual­ity of the edit­ing. This is un­for­tu­nate, as it ap­pears that be­tween mind, pen and ed­i­tor, the flow of the story and the build-up to the sec­ond half is com­pro­mised.

It is dif­fi­cult to de­duce if the in­tended au­di­ence for this book is meant to be mostly lo­cal or for­eign. There is di­a­logue within the story that seems painfully con­trived, such as the ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion be­tween In­spec­tor Mala and Bayu. How­ever, within the same chap­ter, the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Rosni, a reporter, and Bayu seems ef­fort­less and nat­u­ral. Th­ese con­trasts oc­cur in sev­eral places through­out the book – they be­gan to jump out at me be­fore I got half­way through the book.

In ad­di­tion to this, the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween for­eign­ers and lo­cals are very stiff, not only be­tween law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, which is ex­pected, but also be­tween most char­ac­ters, whether crim­i­nals or lovers. Th­ese de­tails, though small, tend to pile up quickly and adds fur­ther to the al­ready choppy flow of the book.

I found the first 180 pages of Bayu slow-paced and a lit­tle bor­ing. It starts off with an ad­ven­ture at sea by two pro­fes­sional divers, a short story that doesn’t seem to have any con­nec­tion with the main plot.

The sec­ond chap­ter picks up a lit­tle, with the ac­tual kid­nap­ping hap­pen­ing. One feels 1. I Am Malala: The Story Of The Girl Who Stood Up For Ed­u­ca­tion And Was Shot By The Tal­iban by Malala Yousafzai 2. Lim­it­less: De­vo­tions For A Ridicu­lously Good Life by Nick Vu­ji­cic 3. Un­stop­pable: The In­cred­i­ble Power Of Faith In Ac­tion by Nick Vu­ji­cic 4. Alex Fer­gu­son: My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy by Alex Fer­gu­son 5. Hero by Rhonda Byrne 6. Re­claim Your Heart by Yas­min

Mo­ga­hed 7. David And Go­liath: Un­der­dogs, Mis­fits And The Art Of Bat­tling Gi­ants by Mal­colm Glad­well 8. Se­ri­ously ... I’m Kid­ding by

Ellen DeGeneres 9. The Art Of Think­ing Clearly by

Rolf Do­belli 10. Wreck This Jour­nal (Black): To Cre­ate Is To De­stroy (Ex­panded) by Keri Smith slightly let down when the third through umpteenth chap­ters are full of Bayu play­ing what feels like a child­ish game of cat and mouse with the au­thor­i­ties. The an­tag­o­nist, As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Ong, plays a los­ing game of wits against the sim­ple tac­tics used by Bayu through­out the whole book and by the end, sounds as though he may be in love with his own ro­man­ti­cised idea of the mas­ter crim­i­nal. Put plainly, the last time I saw po­lice this bum­bling was in The Blues Brothers.

The last 70 pages of the book, how­ever, be­come very en­gag­ing, and it is a pity that this fast-paced flow is not ev­i­dent through­out the book. I found it hard to put it down once events be­gan mov­ing.

Ro­zlan Noor has an ev­i­dent tal­ent for de­scrip­tive and de­tailed sto­ries and this is put to good use in th­ese last chap­ters. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pens at the be­gin­ning of the book is tied to­gether and it all be­gins to make sense. The only nag­ging thought I had at the end was that it was wrapped up a lit­tle too neatly, but that could just be my own cyn­i­cism at work.

Over­all, the char­ac­ter of Bayu never re­ally be­comes an en­gag­ing, real per­son. I think that it would be in­ter­est­ing to watch this mas­ter plan­ner at work again; hope­fully, the au­thor will write pre­quels or se­quels that will bring this char­ac­ter to life. 1. The Cuckoo’s Call­ing by Robert

Gal­braith 2. KL Noir: Red by Var­i­ous

Au­thors 3. KL Noir: White by Var­i­ous

Au­thors 4. Un­til The End Of Time by

Danielle Steel 5. The First Phone Call From

Heaven by Mitch Al­bom 6. I’ve Got Your Num­ber by

So­phie Kin­sella 7. Love In Pe­nang by Var­i­ous

Au­thors 8. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze

Choo 9. The Hob­bit by J.R.R. Tolkien 10. The Time Keeper by Mitch

Al­bom Weekly list com­piled by

Kuala Lumpur; www.mphon­line.com.

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