I genuinely think this book is brilliant and it genuinely made me laugh and I totally get why this book remained banned to this day. Not many realize how it was intentionally a cultural and political satire of pre-Merdeka days masquerading as literary fiction. There’s no denying that Anthony Burgess understood Malaya and its people well in this book. His fluency and the ease of use in several different language told a lot about his skills as a linguist. Unlike “The Clockwork Orange”, I didn’t find myself having a problem reading through this book and the use of the local language and dialect was fluent and believable. There was mild Urdu in several part of the story which Burgess accompanied with subtle translations unlike some of the untranslated Malay in it. Malaya Malay is much different version than the current Malay that Malaysian use but the Malay is still understandable although outdated. But his occasional use of the Manglish and “-lah” in dialogues pretty much made everything legit.
The book uses stream of consciousness that work well as it was centered mostly on the characters of this book. The narration focus much the characters in this book : Victor Crabbe, Nabby Adams, Alladad Khan and several lesser narrators.I don’t think Burgess think he was being subtle in this book. The name “Lanchap” was another word for masturbation . He called the town Kuala Kangsar as Kuala Hantu and I know it was Kuala Kangsar because its also a royal town (with his not so subtle mention of a certain Iblis along with some delicious gossips which are totally relatable to this day) and the unsubtle mention of infamous boy college.
As for the theme of alcoholism in this, it was titled “Time for a Tiger”, (duh), even the author explained in in the beginning of the story about it being a brand of cheap beer. Alcohol still remain expensive and heavily taxed in Malaysia so Tiger beer still remain moderately expensive and it made sense how most of the characters in this book was bed-ridden with debt. That was why there’s some several mentions of moonshines in this book. I’d suspected that Nabby Adams was another word for the malay usage of the stylistic “Anak Adam” which technically an anonymous name you give to a person if you’re unsure of the name or if you don’t know the name, which work well since he’s a hedonistic Malay Muslim and in this country, you can easily get persecuted for selling a drink to a muslim. As much one would cry ‘cliche’, the problem is still real and apparent still persistent to this day despite strict laws and high alcoholic taxes. Apparently nothing much change since the 40s and 50s.
But narrating characters themselves was ever interesting. Since Burgess himself lived in those times, it was technically a historical novel although it was written in a contemporary style. Even Crabbe was a caricatured version of him and probably as well as the characters in this book. It was really a slice of history. How the people are alive and vibrant in those days where the British Empire dwindled. People who have their own problems and issues as we do today. The characters were ever vibrant even with multiple of flaws. They have ignorance, they have lust, they feel too strongly and regret as well. Sometimes they feel guilt, proud, sickly, depraved, perverse but ever alive. These are genuinely more refreshing than the flowery-all-environment-descriptive-and-vacuous-characters-and-no-plot-and-forever-WW2 historical fiction about Malaya that tend to be repetitive nowadays. It was a slow moving book with plot centered around the characters more. It was a time where we could appreciate the basic modern amenities we had today like the smooth road, refrigerator, the time when 50 cents can keep you fill. Those time when my grandparents lived and also those people who had once live and forgotten in modern graves.
In the midst of it, I adore Burgess’s prose. The way he narrate travelling in fear of the things in the forest in those times when communist drive people into terrorism. The way he describe music : “It started : strings rising from A to a long held F, through E to E flat, when the woodwind came in with their bittersweet chords. Wagner’s prolonged orgasm.“. Often I became enraptured by his storytelling and the ease of his use to voice his characters which I never was good at. The dialogues were ever exciting and funny and truthfully it deserve a proper adaptation at least in audiobooks. If the copyright holder would consider it, it would be amazing to hear them coming alive. But I don’t see anyone going to do it anytime soon. I even had a harder time trying to gain a copy of this book due to the ban and there’s no e-book version of this. Which is sad, since Burgess is in every way, capture the essence of Malaya even better than the authors we have today trying to write about the long days that had waned.