I’ve just finished reading The Old House & Other Stories by Chuah Guat Eng. I bought my copy personally from the author at “Readings” organised by Sharon Bakar. The author was kind enough to autograph a copy for my two children. I always do that. When my kids are grown up I can pass them the books – which they’ll have to share!
Chuah’s book is a volume that’s hard to put down. It’s not because the plots are particularly gripping, although some of them are (as in “The Old House” and “Two Pretty Men”). Nor is it because of the spectrum of varied tales. Rather, it’s in the spell-binding yet often deceptively simple use of language, the almost conspiratorial narration so that the reader feels that the author is beside her, whispering secrets into her ear. I felt most privileged to be admitted into Chuah’s world, where even the trivial everydayness seems to hold hidden meaning.
Chuah creates wonderful characters. That is part of her secret. Her characters live and breathe, and all of them are quintessentially Malaysian. William Wan, Aunty Bongsu and No-brain Noneh are but some of them. Once we’ve met her characters, we are compelled to know what happens next.
There are nine short stories here. I found the best ones loaded at the front of the book: “The Power of Advertising”, “The Day Andy Warhol Died” and “The Old House” were my favourites. Interestingly, all of those were written in the first person. “The Old House” in particular is a wonderful ghost story and I couldn’t have done better.
These are stories which capture Malaysian life. Not vampire-filled tales or pretentious self-indulgent writings, but stories to be simply enjoyed for what they are. Stories written to be shared.