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The Queen of Statue Square: New Short…
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The Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong

by Marshall Moore

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The quality of any fiction anthology tends to vary greatly from one story to the next. Not so with this remarkably consistent collection of Hong Kong fiction.

Although the cliché view of the former British colony is it's a place where money is number one - a perspective these stories don't seek to challenge - and the arts come second, these writers are no bunch of amateurs playing at writing and seeking to show off. Their various credits include appearing amongst the pages of the South China Morning Post and Granta, founding the Asia Literary Review and being a genuine bestseller.

Before the stories, the introduction raises pertinent questions about what constitutes a Hong Kong people and justifies why the anthology is in English rather than Cantonese, a fact that might otherwise seem like a colonial hangover.

There's no standout star in this collection, but the stories are uniformly of a decent standard. Only 'The Seventh Year', with its slightly melodramatic tone threatens to completely disappoint; though even that is redeemed, somewhat, by its amusing conclusion.

If there's a strong criticism to be made, it's not about the quality of the prose, rather the cheap endings that abound. 'The Troubled Boyhood of Baldwin Wong', in particular, finishes abruptly. It's true, we reach the end of Baldwin's childhood by the conclusion, and a beguiling ride it is, but much is unresolved and we're left hoping for a sequel to tell the rest of the story. Many of the tales take the easy way out, ending before having to deal with the consequences of previous words, though the authors can be forgiven due to word counts and the constraints of space.

Whilst these stories bring to life immigrant domestic helpers, wizened grave sweepers, the city's old, its spoilt youth, its transitory expat population and its established money, it would be nice if the stories had wider perspectives aside from their protagonists. Tales are repeatedly superstitious, set on HK Island, and laden with talk of money and/or property. Socialist yarns of migrant workers living in a New Territories village might not make for a better tale, but it's surprising that a majority of the stories are so narrowly focused.

Ultimately this is nitpicking, though, since these stories, wherever they're set and whoever they focus on, are entertaining reads that prove Hong Kong has a vibrant literary scene that persists despite the SAR's business-first mindset and hectic way of life. As far as introductions to modern Hong Kong fiction go, you can't do much better than this. ( )
  DRFP | Jan 19, 2015 |
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