Deric and I chanced upon a Borders book sale last week while having lunch together on the eve of Chinese New Year. As it is with most book sales, you have to wade through drab and dubious title aplenty before you arrive at any real treasure.
We didn’t have that much time on our hands after lunch (as I still had to return to the office to work, although Deric was already off from lunch time onwards), so we hardly got much stash out of the sale.
But I did notice that the KL Noir series, published by Fixi Novo (the English imprint of Buku Fixi) was on discount. So I decided the time had come to finally buy one of the books in the series.
Thankfully the one that I picked was actually the first in the series. It’s nice to start off with the debut volume, since it would give me an idea of how it all started and what flavour the stories that were first published took on.
Subsequently, when I do get my hands on the other books in the series, I’d at least be able to see the transformation it has taken on from its earlier volumes. I like it that way.
I finished the book in a matter of days, since it is after all merely a collection of short stories, and hence, very easy to read.
Anyway, so I decided I would share my little take on how the first in the KL Noir series has struck me. Hope you’ll find these insights helpful, or at the very least, appreciate my written efforts in penning these thoughts down online. Hehe.
Well, here goes:
Flip the first page in the book and you will be greeted by the Fixi Novo manifesto, which outlines the beliefs and practices of the publisher behind the series. As is my habit, I read through each point that was printed there (I basically read my way through just about every bit of text I find… even these so-called more “boring” bits that most folk tend to bypass).
What struck me the most about their stand on things was the part where they said they would not use italics to indicate the use of non-English terms in the text.
It’s my first time coming across a Malaysian publication that says this so overtly, so I was genuinely impressed. In my feeble attempts to write Malaysian themed short fiction in the past, I always endeavoured to make my pieces seem more international by the use of italics and accompanying it by footnotes to explain away local terms that I expected foreigners would not comprehend. Fixi Novo shows me that this isn’t always necessary.
The publisher also stated that they favour stories about “the urban reality of Malaysia and that they specialise in pulp fiction. Again, these are laudable principles and ensures that the stuff their books are made of are truly Malaysian and relevant to today’s readers.
Okay, last thing to note about the introductory pages of the book is that it provides 2 pages’ worth of excerpts that give you a foretaste of the stories that are contained within. These short previews were very tastefully picked, and effectively increased my curiousity to read on.
Alrighty, so we move along now to the actual stories in this debut volume.
On the whole, I’d say it was a good mix of short stories; both in terms of the themes of the stories as well as the writing styles.
I have a little difficulty narrowing down which was my favourite story though. If you’ll permit me to list down more than one, then I’d say it would be a close tie between A Gift of Flowers by Shih-Li Kow, Kiss From A Rose by Fadzlishah Johanabas, Chasing Butterflies In The Night by Kris Williamson and Vanished by Khairulnizam Bakeri.
The enchanting thing about short stories is that it doesn’t delve too deeply into either character development or intricate plot lines so it gives you ample room to just soak up the words as they come and enjoy the storytelling for what it is. Yet there is always the chance to slip in a plot twist somewhere in between, and that’s what makes the reading worth your while.
These stories I’ve named have all those elements, and each was a refreshing read in its own right.
Of course, that’s not to say that the other tales in the book were bad. They were just as good, just that these were my favourites.
Although I didn’t really get the point that Adi was trying to make to Serina in Kiss From A Rose.
And I didn’t the way Eeleen Lee told her story, The Oracle Of Truth in the second person. It just felt a tad awkward since if I had been in the character’s shoes, I may have made a difference set of choices than what he/she had done.
There was also a great deal of Malay writing influence present in most of the stories although the choice of character names did leave things open to interpretation.
The flavour of horror/mystery deployed in Dayang Noor’s The Machete and Me, and Amir Hafizi’s The Unbeliever definitely had its roots in Malay traditions and beliefs.
That’s fine, actually, and even understandable, since (if I’m not wrong) Buku Fixi is predominantly a publisher for Malay titles.
But it would be nice to see themes explored that cross into the other cultures that make Malaysia what it truly is. For instance, exploring the beliefs and superstitions of Buddhists, Hindus and the like. Malaysia may be a predominantly Malay population, but nevertheless it is the influence of these other cultures that make Malaysia stand out as compared to the relatively mono-racial populations that make up other neighbouring Southeast Asian nations.
However, all in all, my first exposure to the KL Noir series has been a pleasant one, and it’s very likely that I’m going to go out and purchase the other volumes some time in the near future. I believe you should too.
* * *
I also write the occasional book review for work, albeit in a much more formal tone. You can catch them online here.
(It’s a little hard to search for if you were to use my name, for some strange reason, so if all else fails, do a Google search OR ask me for the specific titles I’ve reviewed. Only if it interests you, of course 😉 )