The Fig Tree - A Short Story by Ivy Ngeow -2021 -
You may read “The Fig Tree” on the website of Lunate - Devoted to Short Stories, Flash Fiction and Poetry
Gateway to Ivy Ngeow on The Reading Life
From The Tate Museum Eight things to know: Impressionists in London
We explore the lives and careers of French artists on this side of the English Channel. (Useful background Reading)
My introduction to Ivy Ngeow was through Elaine Chiew’s interview with her. The first work I read, in April of last year, was Crunchy, Crunchy Special" - A Short Story from her collection The Power Ballads and Other Stories, 2020. I greatly enjoyed this story and read the other works in the collection. Frim their I read her Award winning novel Overboard
As the story opens, we are aboard a boat off the coast of Thailand, a powerful storm wrecks the ship. There is only one survivor, a man, badly injured with severe facial injuries that will require several surguries. Thai authorities take him to a hospital in Thailand where they ascertain his identiy. He has no memory of his life at all. He is English and a person of affluence. His Chinese wife, Phoebe, arrives from London, he does not recognize her, they are not terribly close, and right away mysteries begin to emerge. There was a Thai woman on the boat with him. The wife wants to know if she was a prostitute or a mistress. She was much younger than Phoebe’s husband.
From Thailand we travel back to London, with a Cambodian excursion thrown in, where we gradually learn of complicated life of the man. Ngeow is a marvel at creating settings through details. The narrative is structured in a very interesting fashion, through the perceptions of four characters, Phoebe, Dominique and Przemek as well as the injured man.
The chapters are brief, each one draws us further into the mystery.
The victim, his story is told in the second person, slowly pieces together what seems to be his life history.
There are so many interesting things in Overboard. We learn about London “Sugar Babies” who seek out online older rich men, exchanging companionship and more for rent, fancy cars, and tuition. We see how home improvement projects are often a pain, even for the rich. Foodies will find lots to like in the descriptions of Thai, Cambodian and dare we say it, English food. There are several sexual encounters cinematically described. All the characters are well developed.
I see this as a cubist novel, similar in someways to The Good Soldier, in which we must be active readers putting together events.
I loved Overboard, the characters, the plot turns, the food, the posh apartments and much more. The people are of diverse ages and homelands. I have been to the countries in the plot and Ngeow made me feel I was back there even though I am locked down in Metro Manila.
If you are looking for a good book to help get you through these times, I totally endorse Overboard.
“The Fig Tree” is set in the inner London borough of Camden, around 1912. With a bit of knowledge of French Impressionists
painters, and supplemented in a conversation with the author, we see it is based on the time the painter Spencer Gore spent in England. He is there with a woman he loves and whom he has painted many times. Negow masterfully shows us how a French Impressionist viewed the streets of London from his window, especially a fig tree he would famously paint.
He has slowed down his productivity, the couple lives from sales of his work. He sort of seems to blame her for his issues, as men often do. He tells himself he is going back to Italy where he was more productive whether she likes it or not.
There is so much in this story including very big news. The story brought to my mind the painters in Balzac’s Comedie Humaine.
“Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. Her debut Cry of the Flying Rhino won the 2016 International Proverse Prize. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her short stories have appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service, Fixi Novo’s ‘Hungry in Ipoh’ anthology and most recently the Fixi 2020 Anthology. Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998 and was shortlisted for the David T K Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999.
A highly-accomplished multi-instrumental musician since childhood, Ivy won fifth prize (out of 850 entrants) in the 2006 1-MIC (Music Industry Charts) UK Award for her original song – Celebrity, when she formed her own band, Satsuma (2005-07). Her songs are funky, modern and eclectic, with strong urban grooves and lyrics. Satsuma has played headlining gigs at top London venues such as: The Marquee Club, The Troubadour Club, The Water Rats, The Betsey Trotwood, Plan B and Clockwork. She lives in London.”
From the website of Ivy Ngeow
Traveling plays a big part in all of the works by Ivy Ngeow I so far had the great pleasure of Reading. Her novel Overboard would be a perfect lockdown read. I hope to follow her work for many years.