Southern Gothic

reflectionsBefore this, I’d never read anything by Carson McCuller’s although I’d heard of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.

Reflections in a Golden Eye is such a strange book. I started off laughing out loud at the characters. It seemed to me that they couldn’t be taken seriously at all. Everyone is too intense, too extreme in being and feeling to strike one as at all real. But I enjoyed the story; I liked the darkness and the stifling heat of it, but I don’t know if I understood it, or fully see what it’s meant to be. It did make me wonder though, and it made my imagination tick over.

It seems that it was a John Huston film, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. The trailer is ridiculous, but I must watch it because it sounds even more bizarre than the book:




The problem with using dating sites/apps is that, pretty soon, you see all men as sleazebags or sociopaths, or both.

Is it the nature of the beast? Does online dating bring out the worst or just the ‘real’ in guys? And if not online dating then what? How does one meet people these days? In church? At bars? At the market?

Friends suggest cafes, mamak restaurants, bookshops and art shows. I can’t imagine meeting anyone at any of these places. To be honest, right now, the idea of meeting anyone anywhere, on any platform fills me with horror and dread.

My recent experiences with yet another sociopath make me wonder if I am an easy target. Do I come off as easily fooled? Do I seem that lonely and vulnerable? It seems my instincts were totally switched off. Did I switch them off? I wonder if I ignored the red flags because I was relieved to finally meet someone I could get on well with.

Ugh, it seems to me that I should always be heaps more cautious, especially when I like the bloke. I’m not exactly sure what that means though. Don’t get too friendly while getting to know them; do not give too much away, while allowing them to get to know me; always expect the worst, but also give them some benefit of doubt; find fault with everything, but try not to offend. But for how long? When is it OK to relax and enjoy and be assured that I’m not taking part in yet another melodramatic farce?

I think I shall go into semi-hermit mode for a while. And read Barbara Pym.

Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts: A Mystery Covered in Minced Golden Ginger


I have just finished cooking lunch: braised pork, potatoes and brown tofu; French beans stir fried with dried prawn sambal; both dishes served with steamed rice.

Home-cooked Chinese food is my favourite kind of food. I try to reproduce the dishes my mother used to cook for us, but my efforts pale in comparison.

Here is a short paragraph from Shanghai Redemption, one of Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen mysteries. The books are full of descriptions of the  the Inspector’s meals. He is a foodie and enjoys gourmet cuisine as well as simple hawker fare. The following excerpts describe a meal prepared by Peiqin, the wife of his partner Detective Yu:

Pouring a small cup of sesame oil into the wok, she started on the three-cup chicken by frying the chopped chicken. As it fried, she set up a cup of yellow rice wine, a cup of soy sauce, and a pinch of fresh basil on the kitchen counter.

‘A penny for your thoughts,’ Peiqin said, slicing the thousand-year egg with a thread for a cold dish. Another cold dish – tofu mixed with sesame oil and green onion – would be prepared once the guest arrived.

When Old Hunter finally appeared, the table was set with dainty cold dishes and tiny porcelain cups. Yu poured a cup of tea for him. Peiqin hurried to the stove, lifting the wok lid, adding a handful of chopped green onion and then drops of sesame oil to the slightly browned chicken.

‘The three-cup chicken smells irresistible,’ Old Hunter said as Peiqin opened a bottle of yellow rice wine.

‘But he knows that Yu is a friend of Chen?’ Peiqin cut in, pouring more wine for Old Hunter.

There was no answer to that. Old Hunter stared at a slice of the thousand-year egg, which was shining darkly, like a mystery covered in minced golden ginger.

I don’t eat preserved egg, but the descriptions above make it sound delicious, just as Elizabeth David’s descriptions of mayonnaise make me salivate although I dislike the taste of that dressing.

I have made my own version of three-cup chicken, inspired by the descriptions in Qiu’s novel, but I don’t know if my dish tastes as it should. Then again I think every family’s recipe is slightly different.

This link is to one of the many recipes you can find online. Like most recipes, you should try it out and then tweak it to suit your tastes. I like more ginger and rice wine in my three-cup chicken than the amounts listed in most of the online recipes. Still, I love my mother’s three-cup chicken best.




Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books Most Recently Uploaded To My Kindle

It’s a freebie for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’m listing the ten books most recently uploaded to my Kindle. I have read The Exorcist and I was sent Not So Stories for review. As for the rest, just like paper-and-ink books, Kindle editions are acquired simply because you need to have these books (now!), never mind when you’re actually going to read them.

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Counternarratives by John Keene

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm

An English Murder by Cyril Hare

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty




Books from My Shelves: Two books by Elizabeth Bowen

Bowen books

It was 1987 or ’88, before the days of cable TV. The local TV stations seemed to be totally random in its choice of films to screen and there were lots of duds, but the occasional jewel.  One night, on RTM 2, there was Granada TV’s 1986 dramatisation of The Death of the Heart, based on the novel by Elizabeth Bowen. I had never heard of Bowen and I could not find her books in the bookstores in Singapore (there were no bookstores to speak of in my Malaysian hometown). However, National Junior College library had a copy of The Little Girls, and I managed to find a couple of volumes of short stories from the National University of Singapore library.


It wasn’t til 1989, while I was in England for an interview at the nursing college I’d applied to, that I finally found a copy of The Death of the Heart, in a secondhand bookshop in Hampstead. It was a 1949 hardback edition by Jonathan Cape for which I paid a pound.

The day before I’d found Bowen’s collected short stories (Penguin, 1983, £7.99, with illustrations by Joan Hassall) at Foyle’s (in London), where they shelf books according to publisher. I must have asked for her because I would not have known where to look. One didn’t know anything back in the days before the Internet and Google. (Arguably, one still doesn’t know a thing now.)