Sunday, 15 April 2012

Flash Fiction

An author once said that an "utterly succinct and masterful" short story can be compared to caviar or fine dark chocolate. "Chocolate" best describes the very mixed box that is Without Anchovies,published by Silverfish Books in 2010. Though the simple cover helps it blend into the bookshelf, after your second pass along the aisle you can't help but be curious.

“Without Anchovies”
Chua Kok Yee's debut short story collection starts off normally, then takes a turn into darker, more bizarre territory at the end of the second tale, where a nightclub singer apparently answers a song request from beyond the grave.

What follows is a smorgasbord of day-to-day, action, crime, thrillers, more ghostly tales and strange happenings and a bit of comedy. The superbly scary "My Number One" and "Perfect Prefect" benefited from sharp, 90-degree turns from mundane to macabre, complete with hair-raising endings, so his budding reputation as our Edgar Allen Poe is more or less assured.

Among the new and strange are also shades of the familiar. The "last message from beyond" plot ("Dead Cougar"), and devices such as character continuity between stories ("Dinner" and "Cruel Mother") reminded me of Shih-Li Kow's Ripples – could it be because she and Chua took the same creative writing programme?

"Sambal Without Anchovies", which evokes the very Malaysian (or rather, Yasmin Ahmad's Malaysian) warmth, comfort and sweetness of freshly made nasi lemak, is the first, best and most well-crafted story in the collection. It's a brief, brilliant look at love, family and the generation gap that tugs the heartstrings.

However, many of the following stories couldn't match the mastery of the first. It's Hanif, his wife and the dad, Pak Samad who will be remembered long after the book is put down.

An author's first book is rarely his best. While it's not necessary for one story to segue into another with velvety smoothness in a collection, this one has the feel of a hurriedly compiled volume of exercises for creative writing or storytelling techniques. Why did Silverfish Books published it "as is"? Tight deadlines, maybe?

Chua has heaps of imagination (look at "You Are What You Eat"), a warped sense of humour, and he writes pretty well. At the conclusion of this rather short collection of short stories, one is left to ponder what more he could have done, had he been given more time.

Without Anchovies
Chua Kok Yee
Silverfish Books (2010)
172 pages
ISBN: 978-983-3221-27-1


  1. I was actually the one who introduced Chua to Mr. Raman, who then tagged him as Malaysia's Murakami.

    With that sort of pre-release buzz, I think there was definitely pressure to put the book out quickly, even though it wasn't as polished as it should be.

    1. That explains a lot. What a shame....

  2. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for the review

    Hey John, congrats on your new e-book. And also thanks for the loads of encouragement back then.

    I will do my best to improve the quality. It's not quite accurate to blame the editor though. There was no 'pressure to put the book out quickly' from him. If there is anyone to blame, it's my own impatience and limitations as an author.


    1. No problem, Kok Yee.

      At least you have a book out. If you're still passionate about writing, your next book(s) can only get better from here. Hang in there.


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