09 March 2009

Shooting Fish In a Barrell

A book with a title linking it to a rather epicly cynical life lesson. The Himalayan Book Club's latest effort was:

Unfortunately, again I found this book to be quite disappointing. When I say "again" its not that I read it twice and expected it to be better the second time around, but that this is not the first time I have been disappoo-inted in the promises set forth in a Himalayan Book Club book.

Fantastic premise.

In a "note to the reader", the author describes how she stumbled into an odd section of the library. Here ghosts had communicated stories through mediums (sometimes in languages never previously understood by the medium) about their lives. Saving Fish From Drowning was supposedly a story based on the actual tellings of Bibi Chen, a famous art-critique / collector / or something. She was to be going on a trip to China and Burma with some friends. Unfortunately, she was gruesomely murdered first. And that's where the story starts off. Bibi narrates the story as her friends continue to Burma without her. And, that "note to the reader" was just a pile of horse poop.

The grumpy and disparaging main character, Bibi, I found myself liking in spite of her prickly personality. She was a 60-something American immigrant who fled Shanghai with her family when the Communists took over. Initially narrating the story in a way only a ghost could, she ultimately had difficulty in having a lasting role throughout the later parts of the book.

She told us about the leadup to her death. And discussed rather amusingly how annoyed she was as she watched over her own funeral and was concerned for the welfare of her puppy Poochini. Normally, I would instantly annoyed with a person whose dog's name was Poochini, but that's probably not the first contradictive thing I have ever said. I found her dry wit and disdain for her "friends" very entertaining.

There were flashbacks to China, where she talked of the only character possibly more cantankerous and interesting than Bibi herself, the evil step-mother Sweet Ma. Probably the highlight of the book (a shame as it was in one of the first few chapters) was where she described how she had been paying for her hideous step-mother to stay in an old person's home described as "Death's Waiting Room".

When she became infirm, I put her in the best of senior residences, at great expense to myself. She was not grateful. She called it Death's Waiting Room. For years, I told myself to be patient, knowing she would soon die. Surely her explosive anger might cause a similar effect on the blood vessels or her brain or heart. She was nearly ninety-one and I only sixty-three when I passed her by and flew out of this world.

Oh, how she wept. She recalled our past together as such a rosy relationship that I wondered if she was more senile than I thought. Or could it be that she had actually had a change of heart? When I discerned the answer, I changed my mind about her as well. Whereas I once looked forward to her end, I now wish her a long, long life. Let her not leave Death's Waiting Room and join me as her companion in the afterlife.

Haha, oh dear.

Unfortunately it seemed as if it was all down hill from there. That was pretty much the last of the interesting insights to Bibi and the person she became as a result of Sweet Ma's love and affection.

As a ghost she followed her frineds through China and Burma as they made one horrible cultural faux-pas after another before getting themselves abducted in a forest by a tribe of jungle people hiding from the Burmese military regime. To summarise, the characters were boring and sex-obsessed. Quite disturbing when one of the couples to get it on in the jungle had an age gap of about 40 years. And if they didn't I only thought Heidi was in her mid-twenties because she was as equally immature and dopey as I am. Moff, her sexual deviant in crime was late 60's as far as I could tell and some kind of hippie trapped in the wrong decade.

The jungle people mistook young Rupert (a 15 year old) for a reincarnated Jesus in their bizarrely warped version of Christianity because he was carrying a book - they took to be the bible - and could perform card tricks. The rest whinged about their marriages, their incompetence, their lack of significant others or were simply forgotten by the author who, at points, seemed to also forget that Bibi was actually narrating the story. Bibi's insights and understanding of Buddhism, Chinese and Burmese culture all appeared to dry up as the book progressed. It became more and more frustrating and dull as the main characters made one appaling decision after another.

There was one or two references (in various forms) to Saving Fish From Drowning. One was totally literal, where a fisherman claimed to be actually saving them. The other (one paragraph later) was an argument about the US' role in the world, and how it goes in to save people from themselves but does as much collateral damage as it helps, but the book never really came to a head on the issue.

I think rather than save these from drowning, it might have been less painful to have just shot them in their barrel. Stay tuned for more book club rants...


Isa said...

How do you guys manage the practical aspects of having a Book Club? Don't tell me there's some kind of modern, English-language book store where you are??

We have started a book club of sorts, tho it's actually more of an Article Club, as that's the easiest way to get a reading to everyone - passing a book from hand to hand among 7 people would take MONTHS, so someone just chooses an article and photocopies it (or emails a link), and we go from there. Actually, we ususally only talk about the reading for about 5 minutes and then move onto other matters! It's fun!

Dash said...

we have some amazing bookstores! Pilgrim's is huge and caters to so many audiences. There's all sorts of european language books, english, nepali, chinese, hindi. take you pick.

Much of the business world's language is such a mix of nepali an d english that many Nepalis speak and read very well in english.

Lucky us hey?

Tamara said...

It's so frustrating when a book starts out really well and then doesn't live up to its beginning.

Better luck next time.