Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0750-86-6
A Malaysian Restaurant in London is certainly a surprise. It’s not a horror story, but rather, a paranormal romantic story. Tunku Halim sheds most of his usual unnecessarily grandiose and show-off style for a more simple, straightforward narrative, and the end result resembles a story rather than a show-off’s composition entry for his SPM English paper.
The story is simple. The Leong brothers decide to open a restaurant selling Malaysian food in London, and they rope in youngest brother Kenny’s friend Trevor and a Malay chef, Faizah, to round up the operations. Things don’t turn out well, and they begin to seriously entertain the thought shutting down the business. As a last hurrah, Faizah whips up a free stew to go along with the meals during the last few days of business. Lo and behold, people with diseases or physical defects find this stew, Hunger Pangs, not only delicious but also beneficial – it cures them of whatever ailment or handicap they suffer from. Even terminal cancer! People begin flocking to the restaurant, and things become really crazy.
This story has a stripped-down narrative style, which is nice as I get to read the whole thing without wincing at trying-too-hard uses of awkward similes and hyperboles or, the author’s favorite act in his repertoire, dated and juvenile mocking of fat or ugly people without any wit to make such mocking palatable. However, he still retains some classic Malaysian literary farty school of writing mistakes. Every other Malaysian author is desperate to impress the reader with a gripping prologue, so the author has one here… and the prologue completely gives away that Faizah, the only Malay girl in the cast, is the young girl in the prologue who gets taken in by the local version of the fae, the orang bunian. Thus, when Faizah repeats her story later on, that part is redundant and pointless. Many Malaysian authors also believe that it is a must to put in some kind of “twist” or “surprise” moment in the ending, and the author obliges… with a completely unnecessary and tedious final chapter revolving around a poorly drawn character’s life explained in detail. Why should I care about this fellow again? Oh yes, because the author wants to pull himself off in public for one last hurrah… at least until his next book is out.
There is a love story here, between Faizah and Trevor, that has some unexpectedly heartfelt moments. The author manages to deliver some tender moments without his usual “Look at me! I’m an author! Marvel at my bombastic use of big words and what not!” theatrics. However, the prologue and several other too-early showings of his hand rob the story of its much-needed suspense. The fact that orang bunian is involved means that the elements such as apparent agelessness and unexpected powers feel more like checklist elements than unexpected surprises – the prologue really kills the story, I tell you.
At any rate, A Malaysian Restaurant in London demonstrates that the author can write a story designed to entertain the reader rather than to let the author preen at his own imagined greatness as a writer, and while that is a good thing, it still suffers from enough classic Malaysian author pretensions to sabotage itself from being a better read. It’s an okay read, therefore, with hints of possible greatness if the author had managed to edit his own excesses a little more.