Thursday, March 14, 2013

What I was reading in the Philippines!

So here’s something really dumb: I’ve found out Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip is set on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, NOT New Caledonia.

No worries - I'd been meaning to read the book for a while, ever since I enjoyed Jones's non-fictiony novel The Book of Fame - he's another of those guys I met in Ubud, and I remember telling him about the ridiculous censures that MOE had laid against me and him telling me he couldn't even imagine his writing being censored...

Anyhow, the book was a great companion in Manila. Wasn't my only legible friend, either: I coincidentally finished a lot of Singapore lit: Fish Eats Lion (ed. Jason Erik Lundberg) and Koh Jee Leong’s really excellent version of The Pillow Book, f’ristance. Also Damian da Silva’s Rebel With a Course - a culinary memoir that’s rather fascinating in terms of its info on 1960s-70s Singapore dietary culture, but not exceptionally well written, alas.

I was staying with the filmmaker Jade Castro – interviewed him last year about his movie, Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings – and I ended up raiding his collection of comic books.

Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo was really fantastic: a surreal odyssey of an outlaw demon-fighting swordsman born without eyes, nose, ears, limbs, bellybutton, etc, but instead assembled from prosthetics. Daniel Clowes's David Boring, which I’d started on years ago in my Columbia days, was more of a bummer – a listless hetero boy who keeps being dicked around and shot at. Honestly, I wouldn't have realised it's a classic without being told.

But my big discovery was Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer - a Filipino creation, but internationally recognised as freaking amazing. It's set in a parallel world where chickens everywhere suddenly started attaining human-level intelligence in the 1970s, sparking off a worldwide civil war (remember, they breed cocks for fighting in the Philippines). But the framing story's set in the 2000s, when the listless son of the eponymous hero is just an angry marginalised minority in a world where Chicken-Human relations have pretty much stabilised. All kinds of creepy and wonderful and weird. There was a shout-out by Neil Gaiman in the end notes. (Jade hasn't even read it yet - he says it's been sitting in the magazine rack of his bathroom for yonks.)

Of course I did a teensy bit of shopping of my own: bought a copy of landmark English-language novelist Francisco Silonil José's Po-on and Miguel Syjuco's Man Asian Prize-winning Ilustrado, since there's no way I'll get them for cheap in Singapore (except at the library - how about that?).

But me, I'll be focussing my attentions on my actual New Caledonian novel: James McNeish's Penelope's Island. Solid stuff so far.

You'll see the cover next week. In the meantime, news has come out that Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng has won the Man Asian for The Garden of Evening Mists! Whoop-de-doo! Another guy I interviewed for Fridae! Go Southeast Asia!

... And that's a lot of covers this week, huh? Yeah, I likes them bright colours. Saves me the trouble of filling up my blog with text.

Early night tonight. Goodbye!

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