Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Review: News of the Shaman

NEWS OF THE SHAMAN: This book could have been way shorter

News of the Shaman is a collection of four short novellas by Karl R. De Mesa, namely Angelorio, News of the Shaman, Faith in Poison, and Bright Midnight. These stories are interlaced, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they complement each other. Each has its own stories to tell and can pass as a stand-alone work.

The first feature gets its name from a club that has underground mythical inhabitants, which range from cherubs to vampires. The story is mainly about a group of people who visits the area for personal business with these creatures. I really appreciate the premise, but for me it has not been executed well. The problem is the flow of the story. It goes to random directions that don’t contribute to the story that the author wants to tell. I find the telling of the back-stories of the characters to be stretched out. Sure, there are elements in the back-stories that are essential to the plot, but I just feel that telling an elaborate back-story is really unnecessary, not to mention that it tremendously increases word-count -- and not for the better, but for the worse. Other than this, Angelorio has no major flaws, and so its other departments seem to shine. The story is impressive in terms of portrayal of rituals and other spiritual references, and it has been able to trigger an emotional response on two of its main characters.

The second novella is, apparently, where the collection pays its respect. It tells the story of a shaman who is under legal procedure because of an accused murder, and this has been sensationalized by the media. What I like about this story is the fact that it has been written in a rather experimental style. The writing exploits a pseudo-epistolary style, mixed with TV reporting dialogue, interviews, and casual conversations. The writing, overall, is very informal that it comes to the point of being hilarious -- and this is a good thing by the way. This style is somewhat refreshing to read. I’m also glad that I get to see the protagonist’s background and history without the elaborate back-story that I’ve seen in Angelorio. I get to learn about the character through the interviews and conversations in the story, and not through a direct telling of his past.

Faith in Poison, the third novella, is the one I enjoyed the most. The prose of this story is much smoother compared to Angelorio, and I couldn’t compare it to that of News of the Shaman since that has been written in an experimental style. Aside from that, the characters are more fleshed-out and just more interesting in general. They actually have something going on inside them, and they are not just bland objects that serve as perspectives to the development of the plot. However, the story is not perfect. It seems to have the same problem with Angelorio. It goes to unnecessary directions. As far as I remember, there are two random stories inside this novella that don’t seem to contribute anything but to make the work longer. They could be completely eradicated and nothing will change in the plotline.

The fourth novella is called Bright Midnight, and it talks about a musical band that is being haunted by the memories of their dead mate. Again, the author has exploited the telling of the back-stories of each member of the band. However, I must say that this exploitation is entirely different from that of Angelorio’s. The telling of the back-stories of each member is necessary and contributes deeply to the story. In fact, it is almost the core of the story that removing them would be disastrous. Aside from that, it has also made room for attachment to the characters, so their emotional turmoil has been very relatable. In terms of emotional response, this is the story that has captured me the most.

Overall, News of the Shaman is an interesting read. The author did his homework on researching about the spiritual references necessary for his work. His ideas and plotlines are also interesting. But sadly, they don’t go beyond the traditional horror that seems to plague the Filipino bookshelves. The major flaw in this book is its tendency to stretch itself some word-count unnecessarily. And the best thing about it is its ability to incorporate mystical concepts to everyday lives, making it appear that there is always surrealism in the ordinary.

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