Monday, 31 March 2008

Photos from Kata-Suara 3

A bit late posting this but better late than never?

Some photos from the previous Kata-Suara event, courtesy of Firdaus Ariff. I was too busy running around doing stuff to take notes so you'll have to make do with these for now.

Siti Zainon

Jiwa Rasa

Dewangga Sakti

Gerald Chuah

Zakaria Ali

U-Wei Shaari

Chuah Guat Eng and Dangsuria couldn't make it so we've reserved them for future Kata-Suara events. Hope they can make it next time!

REVIEW: Autofiction by Hitomi Kanehara

This review was published in The Star on 30 March 2008.



AUTOFICTION

By Hitomi Kanehara

Publisher: Vintage, 216 pages
ISBN: 978-0099515982

A WORK of auto fiction is defined as a fictional autobiography, or an autobiography with fictional elements. So one has to wonder how much of author Hitomi Kanehara’s real life is mirrored in her latest book when she calls it Autofiction.

The book’s protagonist, a young girl called Rin, is an author who has made a name for herself. Kanehara herself became famous when, at just 21 years old in 2004, she won one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, the Akutagawa Award, for her debut novel, Snakes and Earrings. One wonders, indeed....

Snakes and Earrings shows Tokyo’s darker side, and features a character who wants to split her tongue and who delves into the culture of skin piercing and mutilation. Those who fancy Ryu Murakami’s works might feel at home reading it – which, perhaps, explains why Kanehara won that award, as Murakami was one of the award’s judges.

Kanehara has written a number of books since her debut work, but only that and, now, Autofiction, has made it to the English-speaking world. And like Snakes and Earrings, Autofiction depicts Kanehara’s obsession with the more sinister side of Tokyo.

We first meet Rin on an airplane with her husband, Shin; they are flying back from their honeymoon in Tahiti. It’s obvious she is head over heels in love with him, and all looks rosy ... until a stewardess comes along offering drinks, and Rin plunges into wild jealousy.

When Shin goes to the toilet and is delayed returning to his seat, Rin imagines he’s cheating on her with the stewardess right there, and has angry thoughts of committing suicide, even praying the plane would crash. When he returns, though, her emotions turn about face and she regrets her dark thoughts. She’s soon back in her lovey-dovey state, and Shin and the stewardess never catch on to her turmoil.

This quick change of emotional states is just one of many that we will see in Rin in the rest of the book, along with her disturbing propensity to talk to an imaginary friend when she feels that Shin is neglecting her, and her tendency to sleep with anyone who’s conveniently around.

We soon discover why Rin is the highly flawed and disturbed individual that she is, and the way Kanehara sets about revealing this is certainly interesting: the book’s four chapters follow Rin’s life backwards in time.

We are introduced to Rin, the successful and married author; then we see the bimbo who barhops through Tokyo, dependent on the measly handouts of men in exchange for sex; then the secondary school girl who’s determined to drop out; and finally the troubled 15-year-old dependent on painkillers and depressants.

Why I suspect that Autofiction might have elements of Kanehara’s life in it is because it succeeds so well in realistically depicting a young girl’s troubled life.

In one chapter, Rin is shown living on scraps while her boyfriend gambles his money away at Pachinko parlours, and the intense and confused feelings that Rin shares with us feels so real and convincing.

However, sometimes the realism gets a bit too heavy-handed. Because the novel is written in a first-person stream-of-consciousness style, Rin frequently sidetracks from her narrative and left me wishing she would get back to propelling the plot forward.

But because of Kanehara’s undoubted word-weaving skills, I was eager to keep reading and discover what made Rin the way she is. The last chapter ties almost everything up, and reveals the mystery of why Rin is such a flawed character, but like all good stories, Autofiction leaves a few mysteries for readers to mull over and try to solve for themselves.

Despite being quite a short read at only 216 pages, I highly recommend Autofiction, especially to fans of Murakami and other writers of his ilk. And I hope the rest of Kanehara’s oeuvre will also be translated into English soon.

REVIEW: Duma Key by Stephen King

This review was published in The Star on 23 March 2008.

Everyone’s favourite horror writer is on the road to a return to form.

DUMA KEY

By Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner, 612 pages
ISBN: 978-1416552512

HORROR meister Stephen King is now in what could be called his “post accident” era. Since his near-fatal accident with a truck in 1999, he has divided his fans, and had critics sitting on opposite sides of the spectrum. Either they completely deride his recent work, or applaud thunderously.

The novel he released in 2006, Lisey’s Story (pronounced “lee-see”), seemed to be King’s attempt to break into the literary crowd, and it seems he’s proud of the book – his fans, though, were not so approving.

Perhaps King sensed their disappointment, because he dusted off a story he originally wrote in 1973, polished it up, and released it into the wild last year under the name of his previously declared “deceased” pseudonym of Richard Bachman.

This novel is Blaze, and its release placated King’s fans somewhat. The novel took readers back to an era when King was still raw, on the cusp of reaching the peak of his writing faculties.

His latest novel, Duma Key, written “post accident” and published this year, might not win back his fans’ hearts completely, but it could be taken as a sign that King is on the way to returning to form.

The novel begins by introducing us to Edgar Freemantle, a successful contractor who is recovering from a near-fatal accident.

A crane had backed into his truck while he was on a construction site, and, as a result, he lost his right arm and suffered brain damage that has left him unable to form proper sentences.

Although the damage is not permanent, it’s frustrating enough in the short term that Edgar lashes out at his wife, which soon drives her to ask for a divorce.

At the end of his rope, Edgar decides to take the advice his psychologist gave him to try a “geographic cure”, that is, to start life anew and away from his life as a contractor in Minnesota.

Seeing a lovely beach house in a brochure, he falls in love with it and arranges to lease it for a year.

The house is set on Duma Key, which is off the west coast of Florida, and when he sees it for the first time in real life, he fondly dubs it Big Pink.

Duma Key proves to be a beautiful and exotic place, lush with undeveloped land, and since this is Stephen King, it soon works its magic on the newly arrived, still hurting Edgar Freemantle.

The first amazing thing he discovers at Duma Key is a totally unexpected talent for painting.

Starting with simple sketches, he soon graduates to watercolours, and then to oils. His inspiration seems to be the view of the sea from his room – but sinister events soon suggest something else.

The second amazing thing Edgar discovers at Duma Key is that these strange paintings of his seem to predict the future – and, usually, not a bright future.

Edgar also discovers his neighbours, Elizabeth Eastlake, an elderly lady who has deep ties to Duma Key’s history and who is also Edgar’s landlady; and her caretaker, the erstwhile lawyer, Wireman, with whom Edgar quickly becomes fast friends.

Like Edgar, these two people also seem to possess their own strange secrets. However, since Elizabeth is very old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, it will take Edgar quite some time to unlock her secrets, which ultimately are intertwined with Duma Key itself.

What follows is a story that isn’t just about the strange and mysterious, it is about how people deal with life-changing events, how they manage with the second chances they’ve been given, and its consequences.

This is, of course, clearly linked to King’s own encounter with death: he and Edgar were both given second chances after near fatal accidents involving pickup trucks.

This personal connection, combined with the brilliant characterisation and the intriguing way the story unfolds, may very well make Duma Key the best so far of King’s post accident novels.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Come here me read! Again!


Sorry for not updating. My circadian rhythm is wacked. I even almost forgot about tomorrow's event! :o

Have many things to blog about, including Arthur C. Clarke's passing, but I might not get round to it until next week when my brain clears up.

Also, I master at procrastination.

Also, also: I kannot spel.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

STICKY: Kata-Suara 3



KATA-SUARA 3

featuring

Chuah Guat Eng
Gerald Chuah
Dangsuria Zainurdin
Dewangga Sakti
Jiwa Rasa
Siti Zainon
U-Wei Shaari
Zakaria Ali

Date:
Saturday, 15th march 2008
Time: 5pm
Venue: RA Fine Arts, 6 Jalan Aman off Jalan Tun Razak

Food and Drinks Provided. Admission Free.

Directions:


View Larger Map

Or if you choose to take the LRT, take the Kelana Jaya line (Putra line), and drop off at the Ampang Park station. Coming out of the ticket turnstiles, turn right and take the escalators up to get to the Ampang Park shopping mall. Go round Ampang Park and walk across the pedestrian bridge over Jalan Tun Razak to get to City Square. Walk past City Square and Empire Tower beside it to get to Jalan Aman, which is a small road by the side of Empire Tower. RA Fine Arts Gallery is the white bungalow house on the corner of the road with the number 6. You can't miss it.

And if you're interested, there'll also be an art exhibition launch earlier that day at 3pm at the same place.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Interview with Paul Theroux.

The Hindu interviews Paul Theroux where he talks about travel writing, Naipaul, India among other things.

He also finds the time to dish out writing advice:
I would say: Go away from home. College doesn’t matter. But read. If you come from Chennai, go to Assam... The first thing is to go away. You need to be independent... Don’t stay home and take lessons on writing. Every night, your mother will say to you: “You are a great writer!” or “Get yourself a real job.”…

Writers associated with colleges and universities tend to have a very different career. I am not saying that it is better or worse. But it helps to go away. More precarious but, in the long run, more satisfying.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Go Malaysia!

I'd just like to say, thank you, Malaysians, for doing the right thing. I just hope the people we voted for do their jobs as promised. At least we showed those arrogant morons who's boss!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

RIP Gary Gygax.

I guess no one can roll twenties forever. Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax. Your contribution to the gaming world and culture in general exceeds boundaries. For those interested, io9 also has a science fiction-skewed look at his influence.

Via Wired.

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