A book review: 'KL Noir: Red'

Oleh / By: Iki.Ali

Category: Fiction / non-fiction
Format: Anthology
Editor: Amir Muhamad
Author: Adib Zaini, Preeta Samarasan,
Marc de Faoite, Shaz Johar,
Shih-li Kow, Fadzlishah Johanabas,
Dina Zaman, Eelen Lee,
Kris Williamson, Shivani Sivagurunathan,
Khairulnizam Bakeri, Megat Ishak,
Dayang Noor, Amir Hafizi,
Brian Gomez
Release: February 27, 2013
Publisher: Fixi Novo

Although Son Complex is the very first book released under Buku Fixi's newly-established Fixi Novo imprint, this was actually the first book that I got to read from them. Under their so-called manifesto, the sub-label explicitly states that they'll only publish American English novels, not British English. When they said that, I was also expecting some American sensibilities thrown in with some Malaysian flavours within their publishing, and boy did this anthology have that.

Wait, an anthology? The last time I've ever read an anthology was when... well, you guessed it; during SPM. But hey, it's Fixi baby! And kids these days seems to love 'em so much, I'll be damned if this or any other publishing by them didn't make it to the top of any local bookstore's bestsellers' list despite the language being English (well, they actually DID made the list!). And when it's Fixi, you'll know shit will go down the road of the nasties in regards to its content and ideals. This anthology is no different.

First things first; the colour 'red' being associated with the word 'noir'? That seems interesting. As far as I'm concerned, as also stated by the Big Boss of Buku Fixi a.k.a. the editor of this first of four-volume anthology in its introduction, noir comes from the term film noir, and film noir movies are highly associated with black-and-white colour scheme since the said genre is birthed in the middle of the Classical Hollywood era where most films released during that period were all, well, black and white. And most of the films released shared the same conventions; sexuality, crime, cynical attitudes, and a bunch of other human and society conditions of taboo nature. Who knew that our own hometown actually have those elements in its underbelly? In these pre-apocalyptic times, this is no longer impossible. The world's now a pretty messed up place; and that place includes Malaysia, especially its main federal territory. It's full of impurities and hence, the crimson 'red' being the motif on the first volume of KL Noir which also ironically signifies bravery in the Malaysian flag... in its most negative connotation... I think (or maybe what the authors themselves think too).

Regarding the stories in this anthology and its association with the word 'noir'? Only few could fit that bill. The opening short The Runner by Adib Zaini of Zombijaya fame can definitely be defined as a modern rendition of noir, in which the protagonist took it upon herself to deal with the ones who fucked with her... by 'unfucking' them super hard. Wanna know what that means? Go ahead and read the whole thing. It's awesome stuff and definitely somewhat screams the femme fatale noir characteristics. And that informative essay After Dark, My Love by Dina Zaman? Definitely a toothpick-between-eyelids kind of opener in regards to the 'red light district industry' in KL where sexuality is a money maker (and ironically, this non-fiction writing is more fiction-styled when compared to Preeta Samarasan's Rukun Tetangga), so was Kris Williamson's Chasing Butterflies in the Night, but this time in a fictional point of view of a citizen who has his own, personal way in dealing with those darn skanks. Crazy asshole-lah the protagonist, seriously!

Others unmentioned cannot be counted as noir in my book, since reading them left me wanting for the dark concept of noir to be explored more. But I guess that's what they were aiming for; an exploration and experimentation on a very complex literary genre.

Nonetheless, special mentions go to Shih-Li Kow's A Gift of Flowers for telling the 'leading up' concept to what a noir is all about despite not having gritty accidents and events in it, just bleak sadness; Amir Hafizi's The Unbeliever, a rather supernatural take on noir, where it laid down the repercussions of not believing in anything wrong AND right in this world, one other traits of the said genre; and my personal favourite, Megat Ishak's Cannibal vs. Ah Long, since you know... I can't think of better ways to deal with those pesky loan sharks, and the main character did it by simply letting out a dreadful, sinister smile and gush out gallons of blood in an even more brutal and graphic fashion than your typical noir's portrayal of violence!

In a nutshell, thank you Buku Fixi. This is by far the HARDEST publication to review because it's a freaking anthology and not a single piece of long fiction, since each of them have their own distinct stories to tell on the dark side of Malaysia's capital, and by far the most interesting of the bunch of your already solid array of alternative fictions. After all, I think it's pretty ballsy of these authors to go around and define the noir concept in their own terms, which is like super-cool... and the exact reason why I decided to add this book to my collection. I'm totally looking forward for KL Noir's next chapter! Better not disappoint!

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