There’s a surreal bent to many of the stories in Lake Like a Mirror: everyday logic seems to slip, as if in a dream. It can be just an uncanny shiver ... But some stories go further, sneaking towards magical realism ... the meaning or metaphorical thrust of her work can be hard to grasp, but her writing is beguiling and seasoned with striking imagery ... Ho allows different parts of her stories to hang together lightly, and they may chime more easily for readers with knowledge of Malaysian culture. For those without it, the collection provides a fascinating glimpse, not least into the repressive nature of a strictly Muslim society ... Despite the distilled strangeness of much of Ho’s prose, spending so much time with lethargic, disengaged protagonists can ultimately prove enervating.
Lake Like a Mirror is more evidence, if more were needed, that Chinese-language literature is thriving in Southeast Asia. Ho writes free from the censorship that prevails in mainland China but also behind a linguistic veil that must to at least some extent shield her from the petty tyrannies that can sometimes be imposed by English and the internationalism that comes with it, a veil that is only drawn back for us readers by the efforts of her able translator Natascha Bruce.
... [a] striking, fluid translation ... The nine stories in this second collection are troubling and enigmatic, as they try to make sense of a society that seeks to oppress freedom. In precise and unsettling prose, each one considers, in its own unique way, the words that go unsaid and the lives that go unlived ... Sok Fong uses...multiple women in her narrative. Their lives in captivity blur, as do the traditional structures of storytelling, with elements from the first story bleeding in to the next ... complex, unwieldy ... [some] stories in the collection are less challenging, and arguably offer more pleasure to the reader. Their surrealness is grounded in everyday life, bringing us closer to the characters at the centre. In this, Sok Fung’s collection is reminiscent of the stories of Jan Carson or Diane Cook, or even Miranda July in some of the more offbeat situations.
... striking ... unveils a lesser-known side of Malaysia, wherein minority women struggle to eke out meaningful existences despite cultural and ethnic constraints ... an air of disquiet hangs over Ho’s work ... Blending the matter-of-fact and the surreal, Ho’s prose culls striking images from everyday life ... Ho also proves adept at picaresque adventures ... is at its most powerful when Ho confronts the difficulties of living in Malaysia’s strict Muslim society ... In these stories, Ho demonstrates how psychic wounds can aggregate over time, as her characters persist through sheer resilience ... Ho Sok Fong’s fable-like constructions are sometimes cryptic, often surprising, and almost always moving.
Gloomy circumstances do drift and fluctuate like our weather in its acute crisis and within those, the women slip. Ho Sok Fong makes us slip with them. Or do we simply relate? ... I needed to read each story in Ho Sok Fong’s collection several times. I wasn’t able to fully follow some of the storylines immediately, I was a bit confused here and there, also a bit underwhelmed with not too much happening, a bit overwhelmed with the metaphorical descriptions of the emotional lives of her characters. Ho Sok Fong didn’t turn the oppression of her female characters into a thrilling adventure.
What’s fascinating about the stories inside Ho Sok Fong’s latest short story collection is that they hit the reader hard, and at the same time they frustrate the ability of the reader to parse her scenes. With all of the ambiguity and occult that punctuate her stories, there seems to be something special in Ho’s writing that evokes such forceful emotion ... The reader, then, is meant to have their own interpretation of her stories, and her odd juxtapositions and seemingly contradictory tellings are vehicles for those individual elucidations ... Another of Bruce’s challenges was navigating the cultural differences and similarities between the many Asian identities that appear in Ho’s stories. Bruce tried to capture the hybridity of the Malyasian-English that is widely spoken within the region by planting some Malay terms. Of course, intersections of culture are also difficult moments for the reader. Ho seems to intentionally denote her characters with national identities—Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Indian. For those who are not familiar with the resulting social and political implications, it can be hard to guess what the particular tensions are between characters. However, she does provide some context, referencing historical figures or movements ... These paradoxes, simultaneously being but not being, seeing but not seeing, feeling but not feeling, charge through Lake Like A Mirror. Ho’s stories force the reader to cogitate uncertainty—that is the punch that Ho packs.
Ho’s stories, which center almost exclusively on women, have an eerie quality, an otherworldly elegance, many of them with uncanny images...But as misty-edged as these stories can be, Ho also makes pointed critiques about politics and culture in her native Malaysia ... Throughout this fine collection, Ho’s touch is only lightly apparent. She has created a world in these stories that is entirely, and uniquely, her own ... Straddling the surreal and the pointedly political, Ho reveals herself to be a writer of immense talent and range.