When I picked up the book, it was by accident. It was lying on the small table in my husband’s room, looking strangely out of place. Firstly because the cover was a striking pinkish purple hue, featuring the silhouette of a woman’s face; secondly, it was in Malay.

After reading the back cover, I found myself digging into the pages, like a schoolgirl in search of that feeling again. You know? That complicated yearning, that brimming fantasy most cogent with the possibility of a potential lover?

Some call it romanticism. And it was in the throes of my revisiting this feeling that Sukhbir found me and suggested that I review it.

This is going to be an unusual review. Mainly, due to the fact that this book, Si Romantik Yang Sudah Mati, by Ashikin M, strikes me as a rather unusual collection of shorts itself. Actually, I still can’t decide whether it’s a single novel written in a sort of non-linear fashion or a collection of individual prose that stand alone.

For one, not a single character in the book is named. It is hard to decipher at times, whether the narration is by a male or female voice. It is equally challenging to ascertain if some characters made a reappearance in separate titles. Later in the back pages, in a published interview with the writer, I discover, that the absence of names is intentional.

Initially, I thought I was reading a novel but later puzzled over connecting the ‘chapters’ to understand the story in its entirety. The fact that each story was written in the perspective of a narrator had in part contributed to this initial confusion. I only hope, it isn’t due to my imperfect grasp of the national language that has caused this muddling.

Is the writing style a coincidence or purposeful devised from the writer’s love for Jorge Luis Borges and Bruce Chatwin? This is evident from some of the titles itself such as “A Conversation with Chatwin” and “Dearest Young Borges”.

Happenstance, a quote by Borges that I found from wikipedia, seems to perfectly encapsulate my impression of the book

There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition. – Borges

I refrain from using the term “short stories” because I couldn’t quite gather if there was an independent story in every title. If they are one story that requires piecing together, then I’m afraid I’ve missed the plot. Rather, I’d say these are glimpses into fractures of moments. No doubt, beautifully weaved together in descriptive prose that stir emotion.

Truly, I found the verses to be quite poetic and written with an eye for picturesque scenes. The writer struck me as someone who would have done quite well as a cinematographer or fashion stylist.

I have to say I enjoyed the novelty of this book, in that each new title is accompanied with a song title. It sort of sets the mood and brilliantly embodies how a book can also be a mix medium. However, I wish there was a link provided, where I could easily access the songs in playlist for example. This would have been much easier than individually searching each song on my own. It also features various locations in Malaysia and across the globe. 

I can imagine sitting at a cafe somewhere with this book, plugged into my earphones and totally revelling in the hipster vibes this book offers. It has all the ingredients to appeal to my bohemian notions;  french phrases, philosophical chatter on existentialism and romance.

The subtleties in the storyline can come across as almost pretentious, yet, there is an undercurrent of honesty in the descriptions of scenes and emotions, that warmed me to it. Each of the chapter contained a description of something relatable, yet due to the heavy nuance, I found myself distracted and unsure how to link up the narrative.

I am still wondering if in “A Conversation with Chatwin”, one of the characters is Chatwin brought to life in a plot somewhat akin to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This kind of intrigue that the book offers is definitely a topic I’d love to engage fellow readers in conversation for, however, for me, the drawback was in that in the end, I couldn’t piece together a tangible story.

Still, I would recommend giving this refreshing, experimental work a read. Best, while nursing a cappuccino, preferably somewhere cold, with your ipod in tow for the tincture of musical ambiance. 

Follow Ashikin M on IG for further books by her.

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