Saturday, 16 November 2019

Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong


Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong
First published in Chinese by Aquarius Publishing in Taiwan in 2014. English language translation by Natascha Bruce published in the UK by Granta Books on the 7th November 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and one of my WorldReads from Malaysia

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


By an author described by critics as 'the most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop'. Lake Like a Mirror is a scintillating exploration of the lives of women buffeted by powers beyond their control. Squeezing themselves between the gaps of rabid urbanisation, patriarchal structures and a theocratic government, these women find their lives twisted in disturbing ways.

In precise and disquieting prose, Ho Sok Fong draws her readers into a richly atmospheric world of naked sleepwalkers in a rehabilitation centre for wayward Muslims, mysterious wooden boxes, gossip in unlicensed hairdressers, hotels with amnesiac guests, and poetry classes with accidentally charged politics - a world that is peopled with the ghosts of unsaid words, unmanaged desires and uncertain statuses, surreal and utterly true.

In this season of excellent short story collections, I am delighted to have received a copy of Ho Sok Fong's newly translated work, Lake Like A Mirror. There are nine accomplished tales in this book, each focusing on the lives of women in modern day Malaysia in an insightful yet wonderfully surreal way. I loved Fong's prose style and ideas. Even when a couple of the stories were so surreal that I couldn't quite keep a hold of the thread all the way through, I could still appreciate her vivid and concise creation of scenes, and her fascinating characters.

I learned what happened to a woman swamped by the detritus of other people's lives, and how greatly a teacher feared denunciation for a carelessly chosen poem in her classroom. I'm still not exactly sure what was in the wooden trunk, but I loved the setting of its elderly owner's junk shop, and the predicament of thwarted Aminah trapped in a correctional centre is heartbreaking. Fong depicts places and situations which, on the face of them, are very different to those I experience in my daily life, yet I could always understand and empathise with her protagonists. These women live in a society where the odds often seem overwhelmingly stacked against them, yet they find ways to carry on and, occasionally, to triumph! If you're a short story reader, particularly one who appreciates unusual setups and opaque depths, Lake Like A Mirror will be a worthwhile addition to your TBR list.


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Books by Ho Sok Fong / Short stories / Books from Malaysia

6 comments:

  1. I always like when I find a short story collections that others enjoy. I have tried so many, fiction and non-fiction, but I can't seem to find a set I enjoy because I always want to know MORE. Lovely review!

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    1. I often find short story collections hit and miss, but thought this one a gem. I think the skill needed to write successful short stories is underappreciated!

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  2. I would imagine the visceral differences on our lives when we read books in different countries, especially if the book is a short story collection where the setting differ from one story to the next.

    Lovely review, Stephanie!

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    1. It's a good way to get differing glimpses of another country :-)

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  3. It sounds like this was a very good collection of short stories that you very much enjoyed reading. I like the sound of them having hope at the end of them, and getting to see all of these strong women in action.

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    1. This is such a good collection! I would happily read more from Ho Sok Fong :-)

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