Until I learned about this book, which was sometime early last year, I wasn’t aware that what I love reading – what had actually got me hooked to reading – may be aptly called noir. French for “black”, noir in fiction would refer to those stories which are bleak and dark, often about crime, with sinister and cynical characters. Perfectly my cup of tea.
I grew up in a place located several miles (which usually requires air travel) from Manila. The first time I ever set foot in my country’s capital city was when I was 25 years old, and until then, or even until now, what I know about Manila consists of what I usually see on TV and read in the news – a favorite setting for both petty and serious crimes. Why Akashic Books, the publisher of the noir series, chose Manila as the setting for one of its numerous noir anthologies is pretty much understandable.
All the fifteen stories in Manila Noir are delightful reading, although the first couple of stories didn’t immediately catch my interest. It was fascinating to read stories by Filipino authors, some unheard of, but of great writing nonetheless. My patriotic heart was full to bursting, and it didn’t matter that the stories I was reading weren’t exactly uplifting.
Unlike other anthologies that I’ve read where I only pick my top 3 or 5 favorite stories, with Manila Noir, I tried to rate each of the stories, and here are my ratings and a short line (or two) about how I felt about them:
- Aviary – 3 stars. This is a story surrounding Glorietta Mall, one of my favorite malls while I was staying in Makati. Not too “noir” for my taste, but the ending was full of meanings.
- A Human Right – 3 stars. This one is set on Intramuros, a place I have long wanted to visit. I loved the romance angle.
- Satan Has Already Bought You – 4 stars. Written by Lourd De Veyra who is known as a ruggedly intellectual pop icon, this one of my favourites in the collection. There’s a hint of cynicism and angst in the dialogues between the main characters, and of course that ending.
- Broken Glass – 4 stars. This one is very socially apt. I can’t help imagining the scenes as a TV show/telenovela.
- After Midnight – 3 stars. This one’s a bit hazy for me. I have to re-read it now to get a feel of the story but I can’t still fully comprehend it. But I liked the flashback scenes of how the narrator met the girl and how they ended up where they were after midnight.
- Trese: Thirteen Stations – 3 stars. Now this. I’ve heard a lot about Trese before but did not actually try to read it because I am not a big comic fan (I tend to get distracted by the words so I just don’t focus at the drawings, which actually defeats the purpose of comics, right? Right.) But after reading this, I decided to read at least the first Trese book.
- Comforter of the Afflicted – 4 stars. Written by the same author who wrote Smaller and Smaller Circles (which I have yet to read), I was actually surprised to learn that F.H. Batacan is a “she”. This is one good piece of crime fiction and written by a woman at that, when male authors dominate the crime story genre. My second favorite story in the book.
- The Professor’s Wife – 4 stars. Another favorite, this is the story where I felt closer to the (dead) character. History major? Yes.
- Cariño Brutal – 3 stars. Really sleazy, this one. A story fit for a TV show, although the ending was a bit abrupt.
- The Unintended – 3 stars. This is one story that I still cannot fully comprehend. It’s about Ali Mall, Muhammad Ali, and Leyte, I felt lost while reading it. Maybe I should do more research on the Thrilla in Manila.
- Old Money – 4 stars. I’ve long wanted to read Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, but I’m glad to have a taste of her writing in this collection. I loved her style and the social relevance of the story.
- Desire – 3 stars. This is a sad story of a man who was broken-hearted and the things he did to forget his misery, even to the point of wasting away his dreams.
- Darling You Can Count On Me – 4 stars. If I were to pick a top favorite, this would be it. I loved the “chop-chop lady” concept and the complexities that surround the crime. I loved the different versions of the story told by the suspects and how the story wrapped up in the end.
- Norma From Norman. 4 stars. This is the story that stayed long with me, maybe because this is the last in the collection. I loved the strength and resilience of the main character and how he/she was changed by the circumstances.
All in all, Manila Noir is one compelling read. I enjoyed most of the stories, and they were just the perfect break I needed after reading several literary books. I missed reading stories like this, and what’s more, they really felt so close to home. I am one proud Filipino.
My copy: Paperback bought from NBS. (Php 395.00)