Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Sum of our Follies -- a review

The Sum of our Follies by Shih-Li Kow
published by Silverfish Books
A review by Peter Duke.

This is a beautifully written story about an unlikely group of people brought together by a series of accidents. The setting is a small rural town in Perak, northern Malaysia. The main characters include a young girl from an orphanage in Kuala Lumpur, an irascible elderly woman, the child's guardian, and a middle aged man who has given up his career in Kuala Lumpur for a life of peace and quiet. However, things do not work out quite as he expected when a guest at the elderly woman's home stay is attacked and killed by a large carnivorous fish in a nearby lake. The arrival of a transvestite at the home-stay complicates matters even further leading to the middle aged man being injured.  As the young girl grows up she makes an important discovery about her mother who abandoned her when she was an infant. This discovery changes the relationship between the elderly lady and the child. Then there is the occasional intervention of an older girl from the orphanage who complicates matters even further when she falls out with the elderly woman. The author has successfully brought the characters to life and I find myself engrossed in their lives and stories and empathising with them as the story progresses.

 Shih Li is a wonderful writer, picking her words like gems and stringing them together. But there are enough twists and turns in the stories and the reader is ambushed with totally unexpected events, such as a sudden death, unexpected humour, sex and even acts of violence. There is also a touch of mysticism in the story with the giant man-eating fish and the boy ghost, but these are such an integral part of the story to be readily acceptable.

The author told me that in reality she wrote a set of short stories that she brought together to create her tale. But the book is in no way disjointed and flows well from one scene to the next as the characters lead us through the twists and turns of their lives.

The book raised a range of emotions in me - amusement, surprise and expectation amongst others. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to enjoy a beautifully written story about not so ordinary people thrown together in a seemingly charming setting with hidden dangers and surprises. It's an intriguing tale.