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The book was charming and well-written. The dialogue was decent to good and the characters were likable. The problem though, is that this story spends far too long plodding toward what you would assume to be the beginning of the tale. You are treated to long, mundane conversations. Everything is so verbose that it can be hard to figure out what's important.
On the flip side, everything that transpires does have bearing on the story and conclusion, however it's just barely enough to make a difference, and certainly not enough to have dwelled on for so long.
With some editing, this could be far more enjoyable.
38 of 38 people found this review helpful
I have never been to Singapore. I lived in Hong Kong many years ago and may have picked up the disdain for what many there viewed as their much lesser cousin. Nor have I ever really known a Singapore native. My knowledge of the island nation is based on general reading and occasional chats with people who have travelled there for one purpose or another, returning with complaints of high prices, stifling heat, and equally stifling sociopolitical regimentation. I have deliberately avoided looking up Ms. Tsao's biography (I'll do that after I finish this review), because I desperately want to IMAGINE her as a Singapore local, whatever the truth of the matter. Whether it's real or not, the nation she describes is alive, colorful, vibrant, exciting, even when viewed largely from the point of view of a character who does not and can never fit in. Early in the book there is a description--it must run to several pages in print--of the diversity and quality of Singapore's food, and the extent of the population's love for it, whose lavish, evocative detail reminds me of Flaubert in its execution. Think, for instance, of the description of the young Charles Bovary at the beginning of Flaubert's debut novel and you'll get a sense of the best of Tsao's prose. Incidentally, the hapless protagonist, the "oddfit" of the title, himself bears some resemblance to poor Dr. Bovary.
Like many of the best works of fantasy, this novel might with equal justification be ascribed to another genre pigeonhole, in this case magical realism. I will not go into the plot--to my mind, the value of this novel lies primarily in character and setting. It is serviceable, though I think it ends a bit abruptly and arbitrarily. The reading is generally excellent. Mr. Evers-Swindell's third-person narrations suggest to me that he is Australian, but his character voices deploy a wide range of accents to good effect, as one would hope for the audiobook of a novel set in cosmopolitan Singapore. I can't vouch for the authenticity of all of them, but I have a good ear, and most sound plausible to me. In my mind, I can now picture each character quite clearly, mannerisms and all.
As I said, I haven't yet googled Ms. Tsao, but if I'm right that this is her first novel, then I hope I can look forward to many more.
33 of 37 people found this review helpful