Fixi Novo, RM24.90, ISBN 978-967-0750-32-3
I personally wouldn’t consider Tunku Halim’s Last Breath a horror story, but that’s probably the classification this book would fall into and shelved accordingly, so I may as well go with the flow. If I want to be nice, I’d say that this is a whimsical tale. If I am being honest, I’d say this story is one of the most self-indulgent nonsense I’ve read in a while.
The plot is supposed to be like this. There is a race of… creatures, I guess, called Dolobs. What the Dolobs are is never truly explained here, other than “they are darker than the Indians and lighter than the Chinese”. Oh, you’d be getting more of that here – the author just loves to act like he’s so clever when he’s in truth just tossing words out there and hope that people find the whole thing hilarious yet profound. Okay, forget the Dolobs. Let’s focus on Tan Sri Ismail, the fifth richest man in Malaysia, and his bored wife Kasnah. The Tan Sri is having an affair with his secretary Zizi. One day, he fires Lani, the tea lady, who then seeks out a bomoh to inflict the Tan Sri with a fatal curse. The man doesn’t die, however, because his company is responsible for the construction of a dam that would flood the bomoh’s home (which is also her source of power) and she wants him to call that project to a halt. And so forth this story goes.
The synopsis is incoherent, I know, but that’s because this is a “zany” and “wacky” story where characters act with increasingly over the top silliness to bring on the laughter. The author introduces twists and turns all the way to the last page (which also includes a most charming switch from third person point of view to first person point of view), adds in and kills off characters (or simply forgets about them) without much rhyme or reason, and relies heavily on gags that make fun of racial stereotypes and physical imperfections. I have nothing against racist and politically incorrect jokes as long as they make me laugh, but here, the humor just feels tired and juvenile. People puking and passing gas and being morbidly obese… this is the end of 2014, don’t we have new things to make fun of nowadays? The slapstick humor here comes off as dated and boring, I feel like I’m stuck watching reruns of locally produced TV sitcoms from the 1980s and 1990s non-stop.
There is some potential here. Some scenes are well written, such as the darkly humorous deaths of two characters being hit by a bus, but there are more scenes that try too hard to deliver canned and dated humor, making Last Breath a show where Tunku Halim is desperately performing a stand-up routine to an empty bar. The plot just reeks of self-indulgence as the author switches things around and tosses in twists and turns without any effort to ensure that there is some kind of fit for all these “ingenious moments”. And as usual, as per this author’s style, he doesn’t stick to one adjective when he can use seven, and similes and metaphors are to be used as liberally as possible, no matter how awkward the end result can be.
Tunku Halim could very well deliver a fun story one day if he would just rein in the excesses and self-indulgence in his writing. As for this book, if you are the author’s parent or BFF, well, go ahead and buy this one – it’s your job, after all. Everyone else, though, well, I guess it depends on how much you like gazing at an author’s navel. Last Breath is basically every navel lint of the author in full display, so enjoy the show.