Review: Dongeng by Anna Tan

Dongeng[This review contains spoilers]

DONGENG

By Anna Tan

Publisher: Pronoun, 214 pages

The prelude to Dongeng by Anna Tan sets the scene and fulfils the promise of the book’s title: This is a story set in the world of fairytales. Sang Kancil makes a brief appearance, confirming that, as the title suggests, the fairytales will be those of the Malay world.

The title also seems to remind us that the world we are about to enter, via the story, is an imaginary one. While we may be expected to suspend our disbelief as we immerse ourselves in Tan’s words, the title stresses that this is a fairy story. Or is it? Certainly, as I read more, I began to see that the book’s title might allude to the doubt and skepticism felt by the novel’s protagonist about what she encounters. Indeed, the title seems also to cheekily reference the reader’s own assumptions that the story being told is pure fantasy.

‘Chapter One’ plunges us into the thick of things: Sara, the protagonist, finds herself in the middle of a forest, on a moss-covered dais no less. A city girl, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, she is immediately aware that something really odd is afoot, and so, one of her first observations is that her handbag has travelled to the forest with her and that nothing in it has gone missing — as it would be inconvenient to have to apply for a new identity card and cancel her credit card. This response is rather incongruous, but not entirely implausible, I suppose, considering how traumatised Sara must be to find herself whisked away to another world.Read More »

Re-read: The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

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The Exploits of Moominpappa, aka Moominpappa’s Memoirs is the fourth book in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson.

In this book, we find out about Moominpappa’s background and past. He is writing a memoir and he reads from it to his son Moomintroll, and Moomintroll’s friends Snufkin and Sniff.

As it turns out, Moominpappa’s early days were spent with Snufkin and Sniff’s fathers — the Joxter and the Muddler from whom, we see, many traits have been inherited by their offspring.

Moominpappa’s origins are quite romantic as he was left, wrapped in newspaper, at an orphanage run by a Hemulen. One day, having had enough of his colourless existence in the orphanage, and the Hemulen’s strict ways, he runs away.Read More »

Re-reads: The Stolen Lake (The Wolves Chronicles) by Joan Aiken

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The cover of the first edition published by Jonathan Cape and illustrated by Pat Marriot.

One of my favourite fantasy series is Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles. There are twelve books, including a prequel (The Whispering Mountain), with  Dido Twite the protagonist in most of the stories.

After I read Calmgrove‘s post about The Stolen Lake, I couldn’t resist re-reading it. It’s the fourth book in the main series and my favourite as I find it has the most thrilling and unusual plot. The ever plucky and pragmatic Dido is also especially endearing in this installment. I like her so much and find her optimism and can-do attitude inspiring and cheering. (I want to be Dido when I grow up.)

In this story, Dido is onboard the HMS Thrush, heading back to England. Dido, having escaped death and worse in the previous two books (Blackhearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket), is looking forward to going home and is dismayed when the Thrush is forced to make a detour after the Captain of the ship is summoned by the Queen of New Cumbria (a country in Roman America, Aiken’s alternate history version of South America). Surprisingly, the Queen requests that he bring Dido with him.

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The Houghton Mifflin edition, with cover art by Edward Gorey.

It turns out that Queen Ginevra requires help to get back the country’s ceremonial lake which she claims has been stolen by the King Mabon, ruler of the neighbouring Lyonesse. Even more surprising is that the Queen is apparently more than a thousand years old and is waiting for the return of her husband, King Arthur. Could her longevity be linked to the noticeable absence of female children in New Cumbria?

Dido is soon in the thick of another adventure, this time one involving an imprisoned princess; shape-shifting witches; human sacrifice; cannibalism; and reincarnation.

I’d resolved to re-read less this year in order to make some progress with my TBR list, but I’ve decided to just read whatever I feel like. I will be re-reading Black Hearts in Battersea next.

Review: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

night-paradeThe Night Parade is about Saki, a thirteen-year-old Tokyo brat who is mad at having to spend four days of her precious vacation visiting her grandmother in a remote village, instead of with her odious-sounding ‘friends’, including the venomous bully Hana.

Saki, her younger brother and their parents are at her grandmother’s village to celebrate the Obon festival, which is something like Qing Ming for the Chinese. Saki is glued to her mobile phone, more interested in getting a signal than bonding with her grandma.

She’s an average teenager, basically; a typical brat who doesn’t appreciate history, culture and traditions. She (probably) loves her family, but at this point in her life she considers them boring spoilers-of-fun. To her, the countryside is also boring – because it’s so far away from the city and malls and concerts.

However, while Saki is far from likeable, her flaws are familiar – not only do I have teenage kids, and one tween, which means I know all about children grumbling while on holiday, ignoring the beauty around them and focusing on how they miss their video games, and YouTube vlogs, but I also remember being that age and getting stupidly angry about going on trips if it meant missing my favourite telly programmes . So, sure Saki’s irritating, but she’s also believable and recognisable, and I understand that the person she is at 13 isn’t the person she’ll be forever. Also, I expected her experiences in the book to make her grow and change for the better, and so, become a more sympathetic character. Thankfully, she does become less bratty by the end of the book, although, in my opinion, no more likeable.Read More »

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favourite Animals in Literature

Ten characters we’d name our pets or children after? Hmm, no, I don’t think so. None of my three children are named after book characters and neither are my two cats. It’s just not something I would do, so I have tweaked the subject of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday meme (hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish).

I’m not crazy about books about close friendships between humans and their pets because the animals often meet sticky ends, or else there’s usually a heart-rending scene of some sort that leaves me in floods.

My favourite animals characters tend not to have much to do with the world of humans, but my No. 10 choice is from a non-fiction book.

Read More »