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Review | Taiping Tales of Terror (Julya Oui)

Much here is not only about the supernatural that scares us but also monsters of our creations and, the evil of men…

Logline

Boys scouts sit around a campfire and tell ghost stories ranging from urban legends, supernatural encounters and cautionary tales.

 

Back of Book

Set in a typical storytelling around a campfire, here are thirteen boys retelling these tales of horror in one night. But as the session draws to a close they realise they started with only twelve…

 

Read It Because

Come on! Remember those books of ghost stories you used to tear into when you were young? I went to boarding school AND I went camping. I know how it’s like to huddle close, torchlight under chins scaring ourselves shitless, then you nak terkencing so you have to run like the hounds of hell were on your heels to the toilet and back. I also remember feeling mildly dissatisfied because most of the storytellers are pretty rubbish at it and the tale will typically end abruptly. The guy got buried alive, abuden? Was she really a ghost? It was the wtf happened at the end that haunted me awake, not the hantu.

Well, Julya knows this pain so in ‘Taiping Tales of Terror’, it starts off with a boy telling a tale and then you get to know what happens after. There’s resolution!  And endings. What’s more you not only get into the psyche of the victims but in some stories, you get the point of view of the spooks themselves. Much here is not only about the supernatural that scares us but also monsters of our creations and, the evil of men. I say specifically men because there is a strong vein of empathy here for female subjugation. A lot of characters in this book have a lack of agency whether due to gender, age, poverty or circumstances. Is this a feminist sort of book? Not entirely but it makes you think why so many avenging and restless spirits are female and why so many men get away with well… murder. Perhaps if we take the time to ask a Penanggal or a Pontianak why they are so angry (when they’re not chewing our faces off), we’ll uncover a history of abuse and powerlessness in their past.

 

Is This Really for Me?

Julya does not shy away from gore or from uncomfortable subject matter. Some of the stories are scary but there are equal numbers that are disturbing. There are instances of molestation, trafficking, and cruelty to name a few. So if you are easily triggered then tread gingerly.

 

A Prose Taster

“Mrs Ramanathan was a matronly woman who spent most of her time tutoring weaker students in schools. She told us she would have loved to stay to the end of her days in Taiping if she could. She kept reminding us of how beautiful and special this town was and that we should cherish everything wonderful about it —the Lake Gardens, the hills, the tranquility and incredible biodiversity of fauna and flora.

She said if we couldn’t appreciate the magnificence of our own backyard, we would never really appreciate anything wherever we went. Although I didn’t know her personally, I did hear a little bit about her and the haunting of the headless trishaw man.”

 

In a Nutshell

Some parts is a tad overwritten but after a point it did not bother me too much. There’s nostalgia reading this book and in her own way Julya is paying homage to literature’s horror greats (just wait until you get to the end, she did something really cheeky – it was corny but I loved it). As a Perakian who often visited Taiping, I know the places she writes about, from the Lake Gardens with weeping willows to the Burmese Pool where I’ve waded as a child. The love for her hometown shines through and makes me smile. But more than that like all good horror, the monsters you should be afraid of are not necessarily those with flying entrails but rather those that lurk in corridors, standing on two feet.

 

Honey Ahmad (Ipoh Mari) is a scriptwriter, foodie and book nerd that’s constantly trying to marshal her thoughts into some semblance of order.  She has a book podcast called Two Book Nerds Talking (on Spotify, iTunes, Spreaker etc.) Listen to her discussion on ghost stories here:

IG: tbntbooks

 

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