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Monday, 16 July 2012

The Disused Well & Other Tales by Othman Wok (Review)

Random Reviews – 7

Other Tales of Horror and Mystery

Othman Wok
(Singapore, Horizon Books 2002. Reprinted 2006)

I don’t do ghost stories. In fact, I can’t remember having read a ghost story before. However this series of reviews is meant to be random and this book just happened to be the next candidate.

Considering my scepticism, the book did not start out well. The first two stories left me saying, “So what?” The story teller went to a building, something blood curdling happened, s/he ran off in fright, asked someone else if they could explain it, the someone else said something terrible happened there years ago and that was it.
Nevertheless as I turned the pages the variety increased. There was lots to keep me reading - ghosts who adapted to the modern age by using phones, day time ghosts, pelesit (blood sucking grass hoppers), victims killed by ghosts and those who survived. The variety of settings and characters certainly added to the book’s readability. I was often left wondering what would happen next.
The book also excelled by taking apparently normal snippets from everyday life and transforming them into something ghoulish and mysterious. In fact, I preferred the day time ghost stories as night time ghost are surely a bit of a cliché by now.  ‘The Mysterious Sister’ about a little girl with an imaginary playmate was particularly good example of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. 
I read the stories as fiction which meant some of them were not all that satisfying. However there was at least one story with a surprise punch line and several that ended with cliff hangers. It was disappointing that in only one of the stories did someone have the courage to face down the ghost and make it go away. In most cases it was the victims who fled in horror.
One assumes that the author, a former Singaporean diplomat, politician and journalist, is a ghost believer since, with one exception, the ghosts in his stories always win.  The stories mainly have Malay settings. So Islam occasionally creeps in to tussle with a demon or two, but imams and quotations from the Koran are as powerless as anything else that seeks to challenge the spirit world. Presumably since the Malay Archipelago has been home to similar stories long before Hinduism, Islam or Christianity arrived here, such foreign imports have succumbed to accommodating rather than confronting the indigenous culture of the dead.

This book is currently available at The Penang Bookshelf at RM30. For more details please follow this link.


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