Book review: Hong Kong Gothic, anthology

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:37pm

Hong Kong Gothic
edited by Kate Hawkins, Edmund Price and Marnie Walker
Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Writers Circle is a 23-year-old group for aspiring authors, and exhibits its best work in themed annual collections of short stories and poems. These anthologies are largely entertaining, often portray Hong Kong in a different light, and usually identify the city's best creative talent.

Not all the circle's productions succeed, however. Last year's anthology, Another Hong Kong, suffered from loose writing and loose editing. So some readers might shiver at the prospect of the group's latest, Hong Kong Gothic.

Such concerns are unfounded: the circle has listened to its critics and channelled its talent into a popular horror theme, producing its best stocking-filler in years. Hong Kong Gothic is entertaining, largely thanks to the no-nonsense editing of Kate Hawkins, Edmund Price and Marnie Walker. They have run the best stories first, cut the poetry and made the circle seem less "luvvy" and more fun.

Such changes have lifted several writers to their true potential. Ian Greenfield has abandoned the smutty puns of last year's collection to open Hong Kong Gothic with the gripping The Girl Above. His descriptions of sounds on ceilings and views through doorholes reveal the isolation of Hong Kong flat life. Then he drags readers through staccato text to a taut conclusion.

Sophia Greengrass' The Taxidermist maintains the momentum with the mounting of stuffed birds and Hitchcockian tension in a little shop in Sheung Wan, while Marnie Walker's gripping The Tomb unearths the cultural insecurities of a mixed-race couple in Sai Kung, and the inexplicable events in their village house after a hike to Sha Kok Mei.

Several authors lead country walkers into trouble. Marc Magnee's grisly images add the ooze of the wet market to The Tangle, while Véronique Jonassen proves the success of a simple storyline and concise character background in her thrilling The Alpha.

Joy Al-Sofi festers the tension in What's in a Name?, about a woman sensing weirdness in a To Kwa Wan flat. Anjali Mittal ratchets domestic bliss and commercial success into the panic of flight in Soho, while Juan Miguel Sevilla brings whiffs of adultery and the occult to Discovery Bay in The Queen of the Mountain.

Bernardette Santo Domingo's stark Daggers examines the perceptions and consequences of wife-beating in Sai Wan Ho, while Nancy Leung crafts a sensitive study of bereavement in her exquisite Lavender Song.

Meanwhile, C.M. John races pulses with his imaginative To Kill a Da Siu Yan, which releases supernatural forces in a housing estate. The chills are subtler in Elizabeth Solomon's Never Look Back and Flora Qian's The Bowen Run, but two F-bombs in the first four words mar Vaughan Rapatahana's otherwise enjoyable Appetite for Destruction.

Hong Kong Gothic makes fine holiday reading.