Fiction Matters

… because it does and it should.

Life is a Narrative

Literature is one of my three loves (the other two are music and movies). I have my mother to thank for inculcating a love of reading in me way back when I was a kid still addicted to television. A couple of Enid Blyton set me on my way to a never ending journey of discovering new worlds. As far back as I can remember, I can be feeling low in the doldrums, but the excitement of turning the next page is a feeling that can always envelope me and lift me up again.

I read fiction of all genres but with a predisposition for detective procedurals. I live for the big twists, cruel turns and the OMG a-ha shocking reveals. And because I love stories, I have always likened my life to a narrative and it is up to me to create the big moments.

When I hear a great tune, see a great movie or read an amazing book, I can’t keep my mouth shut. So this blog is my way of giving back what books have given me for so long and to spread the joy of reading.

Featured post

1001 Books & Movies


This is not my usual book review. It’s just a happy post about my latest acquisitions for a song. 😊

These are tomes and are doorways into the world of great literature and films. The one on movies doesn’t come as a huge surprise because I have seen a lot of the great films listed. However, the one on books is a shocker. I have only read 20 of them, granted most of them belong to genres I don’t usually indulge in.

Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange about a nightmarish future is a brilliant study of good, evil and true human freedom. One look at the Alex cover and I fell in love instantly. To date, I have a t-shirt, the blu-ray book and a tote bag with that distinctive graphic of Alex. Oh… and I almost forgot about this naughty Bad Taste Bear figurine. 😊



The Boy in the Earth – Fuminori Nakamura


Warning: If you are feeling depressed, this book may just push you over the edge. This is not for the faint-hearted, but it is still a helluva read if you can stomach the unforgiving nihilistic tone.

An unnamed taxi driver in Tokyo has experienced a rupture from his everyday life. He cannot stop daydreaming of suicide, envisioning himself returning to the earth in what soon become terrifying blackout episodes. His live-in girlfriend, Sayuko, is in a similarly bad phase, surrendering to alcoholism to escape the memory of her miscarriage. He meets with the director of the orphanage where he once lived, and must confront awful memories of his past and an abusive family before determining what to do next.

The story opens with the narrator flicking a cigarette at a group of hooligans on motorcycles. He of course gets beaten to an inch of life. He wants that because he is hoping that pain will make him feel alive.

Nakamura has an uncanny way with words – no word is wasted and his prose is clinical yet sparse, mirroring the cold and dark nature of the narrator’s perceived world. I have all read all his novels that are translated into English and he is absolutely adept at drawing characters that exist at the fringes of society. If a person’s soul-ness is a volume knob, then his protagonist are at “1”. Just one catastrophic event will tip the shell of a man over the edge into oblivion and that is precisely how he can either become a maniacal serial killer or a hero with nothing to lose.

The Boy in the Earth is an utterly compelling and quick read at just less than 150 pages. It rushes to a climax that explains the genesis of the unusual title and hits a verve of a satisfying conclusion that is not quite an obligatory punch in the air for the unnamed taxi driver, but I have the comforting thought that he is in a better place.


The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith


The Price of Salt (later republished under the title Carol) is a 1952 romance novel by Patricia Highsmith, first published under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan”. Highsmith – known as a suspense writer based on her psychological thriller Strangers on a Train – used an alias because she did not want to be tagged as “a lesbian-book writer”, and because of the use of her own life references for characters and occurrences in the story. The novel’s relatively happy ending was unprecedented in lesbian literature.

Alright, I gleaned that chunk above from Wikipedia. My thoughts are here – I adored Todd Haynes’ Carol late and IMHO it is one of the best films of 2015. I was curious about the Patricia Highsmith book and dived headlong into my first LBGT literature. It was a little slow moving at first but it didn’t deter me one bit because the lovely prose details how I fall in love – slowly at first and then with absolute totality and abandonment.

This is a story of a chance encounter between two lonely women who are eking out a hollow existence. They take a chance with each other which leads to a passionate romance with lots of ups and downs. I enjoy Highsmith’s prose a lot. It is gently probing, sensitively moving and subtly exploratory of a forbidden relationship in that particular time period. I have seen a fair number of films of the same subject matter but Highsmith’s gentle prose doesn’t walk the same preachy path. The last act really stunned me with its honest insights and beautiful depth. I read through it in a flurry, all manner of life’s activities and noises dialled down to low lull subsumed into the background, and tears knocking at the back of my eyes. When I closed the last page I remembered feeling so thankful for such a great read. The book truly reflects the way a person, probably just me, falls in love. The ending is brilliant and it builds and builds till my heart exploded in hope and optimism.


My Reading Report Card for 2017


This is my reading report card for 2017. Last year I surprised myself with reading 30 books and I thought I could better that number, but I think I was too distracted by Pokemon Go 😊. I didn’t get a chance to write a review for each one, but I did write for the ones that mattered.

Best Book
The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei. In terms of prose it doesn’t stand a chance against veterans like Atwood and Chabon. In terms of themes and purpose it can’t pip Palacio or Keyes. But I adore its elegant structure and evocative sense place and time. I could literally see Hong Kong through the years in this marvellous crime story that spans decades.

Best Graphic Novel
Sleepwalk and Other Stories by Adrian Tomine. He has a wonderful eye for the everyday and the vicissitudes of life. Despair, desperation and loneliness hand drawn to silent lucidity.

01 The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith
02 Sansho the Steward – Ogai Mori
03 The Kingdom – Fuminori Nakamura
04 The Return of the Young Prince – A.G. Roemmers
05 I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes
06 Moonglow – Michael Chabon
07 Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
08 Orphan X – Gregg Hurwitz
09 The Embassy of Cambodia – Zadie Smith
10 And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
11 The Nowhere Man – Gregg Hurwitz
12 The Wrong Side of Goodbye – Michael Connelly
13 The Nakano Thrift Shop – Hiromi Kawakami
14 The Borrowed – Chan Ho-Kei
15 The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto – Mitch Albom
16 The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories – Marina Keegan
17 The Snowman – Jo Nesbo
18 The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping – Keigo Higashino
19 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
20 The Dry – Jane Harper
21 Wonder – R.J. Palacio
22 Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
23 The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye – David Lagercrantz (*)
24 The Boy on the Bridge – M.R. Carey (*)
25 Metamorphosis- Franz Kafka (*)


(*) means I am still in the midst of reading. Hope to finish them before 2017 draws to a close.


Graphic Novels
01 Superman Earth One (1) – J. Michael Straczynski
02 Superman Earth One (2) – J. Michael Straczynski
03 New Lone Wolf & Cub – Kazuo Koike
04 Wolverine: Back in Japan – Jason Aaron
05 Death of Wolverine – Charles Soule
06 American Vampire (8) – Scott Snyder
07 Superman Earth One (3) – J. Michael Straczynski
08 Batman (1) – Ed Brubaker
09 Wolverine: Origin II – Kieron Gillen
10 Hellboy in Mexico – Mike Mignola
11 The Walking Dead (27) – Robert Kirkman
12 Astro City (13) – Kurt Busiek
13 30th Anniversary Aliens – Mark Verheiden
14 The Batman & Judge Dredd Collection – Alan Grant & John Wagner
15 BPRD: Hell on Earth (8) – Mike Mignola
16 BPRD: Hell on Earth (9) – Mike Mignola
17 BPRD: Hell on Earth (10) – Mike Mignola
18 BPRD: Hell on Earth (11) – Mike Mignola
19 BPRD: Hell on Earth (12) – Mike Mignola
20 BPRD: Hell on Earth (14) – Mike Mignola
21 Hellboy and the BPRD: 1952 – Mike Mignola
22 Batman and Son – Grant Morrison
23 Brightest Day (1) – Geoff Johns
24 Hellboy & BPRD: 1952 – Mike Mignola
25 BPRD: Hell on Earth (3) – Mike Mignola
26 BPRD: Hell on Earth (13) – Mike Mignola
27 Hellboy in Hell – Mike Mignola
28 BPRD: Hell on Earth (15) – Mike Mignola
29 Ghost World – Daniel Clowes
30 Sleepwalk and Other Stories – Adrian Tomine
31 Scenes From an Impending Marriage – Adrian Tomine
32 Revival (8) – Tim Seeley
33 Lazarus (5) – Greg Rucka
34 Nailbiter (6) – Joshua Williamson
35 Deadly Class (4) – Rick Remender
36 Invincible (23) – Robert Kirkman
37 Saga (7) – Brian Vaughan
38 Batman – Brian Azzarello
39 Batman: Ego – Darwyn Cooke
40 Batman: The Black Mirror – Scott Snyder



Wonder – R.J. Palacio


So many acccolades and praises have been extolled on R.J. Palacio’s debut Wonder that I really have nothing much to add, but you know me… I have to say something as closure for myself, especially after what was such a satisfying read.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

I bought the book way back in 2014 after it rode on the crest of a euphoric wave of viral popularity, but I didn’t read it until I learned the movie is around the corner (it will open in sunny Singapore on 14 Dec). I don’t read a lot of teenage fiction, but being a geek who loves to compare the film with the original prose, I dived into the world of Auggie. This is one of those rare books that makes me want to stand on the world’s highest spot and announce to everyone that the next thing they should be doing is to read this.

R. J. Palacio drew inspiration from an actual moment at an ice cream shop and it was one of those moments that forces one to confront oneself. And she started writing the book that very night. She must have been wondering what it takes to face a world that doesn’t know how to face you back.

The prose is spare but buoyant, written with a deep sense of clear-eyed intelligence with a wide-eyed hope for a better world. Keenly observed with nary a false moment and brimming with so much humanity. Stories like these tend to be preachy and manipulative, and without a moment too soon the author would start pressing all the buttons. But not Palacio, Wonder seldom seeps into mawkish sentimentalism and each short chapter ends in a moment that is thought-provoking and invites you to do some self-reflection.

The story is divided into six bigger sections, each written from the perspective of a different character; a clever use of a narrative device. I have just read Paula Hawkin’s Into the Water which is practically a 101 manual of how not to use this tool. Palacio, on the other hand, uses it marvellously. Each perspective opens up the world a little bit more and tears new layers from the characters, proving once again that there are always two sides to any story.

The only part that didn’t quite sit down well with me is the last section on Julian’s perspective. I find it a little emotionally manipulative, but then again I was glad for Julian’s redemptive arc.

Wonder is essential reading, not just for teens but even for adults who have been become too jaded by what society has jackhammered into our senses day in day out. Yes, I am talking about you and me.


When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.                              – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer


Into the Water – Paula Hawkins


I will just come right out and say this – this is a huge pain in the ass to read. This was so bad I could not finish. I was in a cafe and hit the halfway mark. I lifted my lethargic head up from the pages and asked my wifey (who had finished it earlier) “please tell me this gets better and the characters climb up from the lake of utter despair”. She replied no. I proceeded to roll my eyes and prayed for mercy…

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind.

But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

I belonged to the minority that didn’t think Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train was a stunning debut. There were some good moments and the Rashomon-esque narrative trick was well employed, but the characters are unsympathetic and unreliable. For her sophomore effort, Hawkins dips into the same old bag of tricks, but this time she totally over-plays her hand with the narrative told from different perspectives. Whereas The Girl on the Train only had four perspectives, Into the Water has what feels like tripled that! That is tripled the number of unlikable characters wallowing in self-pity. The characters’ emotional states swing from indifference to anger to the maudlin. The timelines switches from the past and present like a faulty light switch, which makes for a disembodied read. Even the central mystery fails to make the read compelling. At times the words floated into space and disintegrate into letters, milling around my dazed consciousness. It was sheer torture.

But mercy came… I requested my wifey to tell me how it ends and she wisely advised me to just read the last chapter. She said nothing happens in the rest of the chapters. So, on that fateful day, in a quaint looking cafe located next to an underused airport, I finished the last chapter, lifted my befuddled face and uttered “WTF”. There is no OMG moment and the revelation feels totally flawed and illogical, which I won’t reveal here, unless you are praying for mercy.


The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz


Lisbeth Salander is back!

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time.

Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professir Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one.

More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence is his connection with a certain female superhacker.

It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowboound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series were published posthumously and sold 80 million copies to date. They introduced the world to Lisbeth Salander. What a character! A ghoulish punk, a narcissist with a moral compass that points north (mercy to those that has theirs pointing south) and a brain that goes in a hundred directions at one time. She has no qualms about calling you out for being a keyboard racist and would stick a knife in you and twist it into infinity for hurting an innocent. She is hard as nails. God, I miss her so much…

I was apprehensive about picking up this book. Who wouldn’t? The three books by Stieg Larsson are the stuff of legends and one does not mess with a legend. David Lagercrantz (with only one fiction novel to his credit) has pulled off the world’s greatest magic act. While reading this continuation of the Millennium series, I didn’t know when Larsson’s distinctive bombastic prose ended and Lagercrantz’s began. Like Larsson, Lagercrantz’s prose is marked by a serious case of verbosity. But mind you, I will take this type of verbose any time, especially when the setup and characters are so compelling.

I devoured the tome in less than a week and it would have been sooner if the book was less thicker and I could bring it out with me during my daily travels. It has a relentless pace, a gripping intensity and a plot that is complicatedly compelling. I took less than 3 pages to get my entire being back into the evil world of Millennium, populated with the most narcissistic of villainy that almost veered into melodrama. I read the book furiously, willing the first meeting of Lisbeth and her counterpoint Blomkvist to be ferocious and memorable, and when it finally came… Oh my goodness… I had to hold a tear back and stop my lips from quivering.

Lisbeth is back!

The Dry – Jane Harper


This is one assured debut. In fact, it’s hard to believe this is Jane Harper’s first novel. The writing is brilliant, it lulls you into the mystery and the atmospheric tendrils of a rural small town drowning in secrets will start to envelope you. I brought the book to a holiday in Melbourne recently, lo and behold, I had no idea that the story is centred around a small town in rural Melbourne. Oh man… the feels.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

The pace is deliberately slow-burn, aptly reflecting the dreary pace of life in a forgotten farming town wallowing in deep hurts and secrets. The prose carries a finely honed rhythm…

It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.

The drought had left the flies spoiled for choice that summer. They sought out unblinking eyes and sticky wounds as the farmers of Kiewarra leveled their rifles at skinny livestock. No rain meant no feed. And no feed made for difficult decisions as the tiny town shimmered under day after day of burning blue sky.

How’s that for an opening? No over-descriptions and such purposeful words. And I felt the sweltering sun beat down on me as I read.

In all my years of reading, I always find flashbacks a necessary but laboured literary device. Harper employs the tool differently that it breathes fresh life into it. I shan’t say more, go read it and find out what I mean for yourself.

The characters are well fleshed out and their motivations well drawn. They literally live and breathe in front of me as I devoured the book. The mystery plot is masterfully constructed and cleverly wrong-foots the reader without cheap red herrings. A piece of the jigsaw is given in each chapter and they all end with a revelation that practically dares you not to turn the next page. Of course, I failed each time. The final denouement doesn’t feel cut and dry, without the typical out of the world heroics. Every scene has time to breathe and the ending has the feels and gave me the chills (and they are multiplying 😊). I can totally see a movie or a TV series adaptation with the distinctive likes of Peter Weir’s Witness (1985) or Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake (2013).

PS – My wifey didn’t think much of it in terms of the mystery and finds the Aaron Falk character not Sherlock-ish enough. She could guess who the killer was pretty early. “When someone is too helpful it only means one of two things – it is either he/she is really helpful or he/she is trying to find out more about the case” Ouch! She is right of course, but even if the who may be easy, the how is another story. This is one of the best reads for me this year.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood


I binged Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale TV series some weeks ago and it was a tremendously satisfying watch. It has been a long time since I got hooked on a good TV series and finished it in a week. This is a nightmarish dystopian tale that feels frighteningly contemporary. Imagine a world where most men are sterile and women are basically divided into two categories – barren and fertile. The world is toppled by a band of religious fanatics and women’s rights are basically thrown out the window. Fertile women become handmaids, another name for concubines, and ceremonies, another name for sex, are conducted in an elaborate manner. Babies are currency; they are bragging rights. Superbly acted and written with an eye out for current times. Thought-provoking and it hits a raw nerve. So I decided to dig out the novel by Margaret Atwood at the back of my shelf for a read. This is not a curl-up-on-beach-chair sort of read; it is demanding and hauntingly constructed.

Respected Canadian poet and novelist Atwood presents here a fable of the near future. In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist’s nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the “morally fit” Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: “of Fred”), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. 

Frightening yet mysterious, cryptic and crystal clear at the same time, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is not a comfortable escapism read. It is fearlessly written and possesses astute wisdom, offering readers a tour into the marshland of deviltry and emptiness. There is an uneasy urgency to each page and a raw emotional pull, making this a harrowing read. The plot isn’t driving, but it serves up on a platter the dark mindset of a woman that is taught not to feel anymore. It fleets from one nightmare to a distant dream in a blink of an eye, and despair never look this magnificent.

PS – I love the haunting epilogue that really screwed with my mind, and I am hugely appreciative of Hulu’s superb adaptation of the seminal masterpiece of doom. I was surprised that the entire first season is literarily the book, which means Hulu is on a virgin slate from season two onwards. The story of Offred, no it’s June, is not over.

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