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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

Ling Ma’s style of writing is so unique, a voice that just sings off the page like some orchestral arrangement of letters and words that combine to construct such a magnificent tone. Just like in her outstanding novel Severance, this collection of short stories looks at the world through a wholly different lens and extracts meaning out of the ordinary, and the beauty in the mundane.

There are eight stories in the collection, each significantly different to the last. Yeti Lovemaking for example, is a deeply introspective view of one night stands with, perhaps, a partner that becomes something significantly different to the expectation. The extended metaphor of the mythical creature is a very impressive piece of writing that shows the strength of the imagery construction that Ma is increasingly known for.

On the cover of the book is a plastic bag of oranges, the sheen of lighting off the plastic quite noticeable on the blush of the orange colour. It is the pictorial of the short story Oranges: a story that is so unique and intriguing - yet is incredibly claustrophobic in tone. In fact, nearly all the stories have a similar theme running through them; lonely but appealing protagonists, an incredible range of detail and tonal development, and these immensely surreal sequences that really push the reader outside the bounds of expectation.

It won’t be for everyone, however. The stories duck and dive around fairly intense topics including sensuality, surrealism, absurdism, and reality distortion. It ultimately leaves the reader in a different place to before they started.

Much is left to the imagination of the reader, and Ma expertly leaves intentional gaps in the prose in order for the reader to fill in the blank with their own interpretations and their own visionings for the next steps for each of the central characters. But the tension is in the telling as Ma demonstrates such ability to build and build the stories around the central theme of tension growing between conflicts in the character’s lives. These conflicts are both internal and external - sometimes with others; sometimes with the world around them. It in the liminal spaces of these conflicts that the real magic of her writing exists.

Some may require multiple readings, and - in doing so - expose the reader to the surrealist view and the ability to transport the reader to new places, and new perspectives. If that isn’t the mark of a master storytelling, then it is hard to imagine what is.

Overall, while a few sequences of the stories made for difficult or troublesome reading, it is a really quality read with a whole depth of talent on show. It’s definitely in the ‘must-read’ pile!

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Text Publishing


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