Wednesday 6 September 2023

#bookreview: Lime Pickled and Other Stories | Marc de Faoite

Lime Pickled and Other StoriesLime Pickled and Other Stories by Marc de Faoite
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not making the same mistake I did with reviewing de Faoite's TROPICAL MADNESS - that "coming soon" long review will probably never come now. (That said, I probably should reread that one, if only to see why I remember liking it more than this collection.)

Comparisons aside, Lime Pickled and Other Stories is a fascinating collection of 27 short stories by Marc de Faoite, some of which have been published in various platforms or anthologies over the past decade. The collection is a little on the darker, grimmer side of stories than I usually prefer to read, so you'll have to adjust my feedback accordingly, I guess.

We burst on the scene with "Red Monkey Sam", which sets the tone for the collection. This is Malaysia, laid bare in words. Many of these stories are about cultural clashes: between Malaysians and expatriates, Malaysians and migrant workers (what makes one a migrant worker vs an expatriate anyway?), between different groups of foreigners, between the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. There is a feeling of transience and otherhood, and yet also one of a strange sort of belonging, even though it's hard-won, clinging to the crevices, through sheer familiarity.

I felt like the longer stories were often the stronger ones, but also more chilling, laying bare the darkness of human nature. "Floodbaby" is one of them, as is "Dr. Fintan" and "Kurang Manis". Many details in "Kurang Manis" might as well have come directly from a newspaper article; "Big Balls" might have well been referring to uh, you know, someone real.

Even in the darkest stories, de Faoite offers no moral judgement, no long backstory or explanation. It's just a story written, a thing that happened, it is what it is. Which, in a way, makes them even more frightening because there is no justification for why and how such things could have come to be. (Troubling that these are also the stories that ring most true to current events.) That, I think is a strength, because modern storytelling is often too prone to excusing evil by blaming circumstances and trying to shoehorn in redemptive arcs.

The shorter works often ended very ambiguously, almost as if they were somehow truncated or never quite resolved. This open-endedness is an oft-used literary device, but it's one that often leaves me underwhelmed especially when there's no sense of closure.

The pandemic-related stories - "MCO: Manicure Control Order" and "Ah Girl Wants A Vaccine" - really shone, and there's a little of the supernatural in "Return Guest" and "The Green Fuse", which I appreciated.

At the end of the book, de Faoite offers some insight into how he came to be in Malaysia and why he left - and the context of many of the stories included in this collection.

Overall, Lime Pickled and Other Stories is one I'd recommend if a) you like dark stories and b) you'd like to read more about Malaysia.

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