Reviewed by Kate Garrett
SWEET SONG OF THE SIREN
As Sweet Song of the Siren is billed as a collection of stories set in or about Thailand, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been to Thailand. I know very little about the culture. Before stepping into the first story – entitled, incidentally, ‘The Short Story’ – I was already wondering if this would be anything like other volumes of short fiction I’ve read and reviewed this year: a road paved with prose, leading me through an unfamiliar place. And that, depending on the quality of the writing, could go either way.
The eleven stories in Sweet Song of the Siren are all about variety: the genres range from contemporary fiction to science fiction, and include elements of magical realism, twists on local lore, and crime/noir. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in Thailand for years, as the author has, or have never been there in your life – the stories are about the who and the what and the why. Some of the stories, as with the stunning ‘Her Mother’s Voice’, could plausibly be set anywhere else, whilst some are uniquely Thai, such as the title story, which is an interesting twist on South Asian mermaid lore. In fact, ‘On the Brink’ doesn’t take place on Earth at all, so that could potentially exclude most people. Fortunately it doesn’t.
Each story has a surprise or a twist to offer the reader, and is written well. I was pleasantly surprised to read female characters with minds of their own. Whilst the older, white, expat male characters do often have younger Thai wives, the women aren’t silly trophy characters. The people in these stories are mostly believable, if a bit two-dimensional in places. However, even when we can’t relate to them as flesh and blood, they populate plots that are interesting enough to ensure an entertaining read. In this collection, you’ll find a man who falls desperately in love with his own penis, a murderer revealed by a stone carving, and talking monkeys.
Sadly, this book isn’t without fault where plot is concerned either. In ‘The Lost Boy’, a detective story at heart, the crime is solved too easily, so the ending is difficult to believe. ‘Kidnapped’ also felt rushed, and ‘On the Brink’ perhaps lacked the detail I’d expect in a scifi narrative. They’re still good stories, but these shortcuts prevent them from being great ones.
Sweet Song of the Siren is a decent, quick read, if uneven in terms of quality from story to story. I was hooked from the first to the last, and I’m interested in reading the author’s other collections. However, though the variation between stories keeps things interesting, I wonder if it would have been better concentrating on one genre at a time, so the crime and scifi elements receive the attention to detail and plot they so deserve. All the same, recommended for holiday reading, or if you like a bit of escapism and can suspend your disbelief.