A retired senior government official has made his literary debut with a collection of novellas depicting a city under stress and people learning that their life pursuits were based on false
Raymond Young Lap-moon, who retired as permanent secretary for home affairs in 2014 after three decades in the civil service, last week launched his first work of fiction, Going or Staying, which takes it title from one of the four stories. Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong described it in the preface as “somewhat like a blend of the styles of Milan Kundera and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”
“I can’t hold a candle to these two legends and he’s really too kind to say that and I blushed a little in reading it,” said Young of Lam, who was his boss at the Civil Service Branch just before Hong Kong’s handover in 1997.
The four novellas in the volume, Young said, do feature a surreal or even supernatural approach, but the characters and scenarios – some of which are depicted in reverse – were unmistakably Hong Kong.
“Lam Siu-kong, the main character in Going or Staying, tries to stay anonymous after his forthcoming death and goes so far as to delete his name in all public records. That I think is something opposite to the norm here, in which people are obsessed with leaving their names for posterity,” he said.
“Through uncanny narrative, I hope readers will reflect on the value of their pursuit, which they can’t take with them when life ends,” he added.
The morbid feel for Siu-kong – which could literally mean ‘little Hong Kong’ – and his eventual death on learning of a son his ex-wife had borne him, permeates the story as an irony of life. But the author said it would be up to readers to connect that with the city that has been promised of 50 years without interference in its way of life.
“When I set out to put flesh to ideas around the time of my retirement, I did not aim at depicting a pessimistic atmosphere of the society. But then if that’s the prevailing sentiment, readers would make their own conclusion,” he said, adding he felt “a bit depressed” with the present situation.
At 55, Young, an accomplished singer and a television host of late, said his next goal would be a novel about an official high up in the SAR government.
“Few novelists know the inner work of the government and that could be my forte, but I won’t breach confidentiality,” he laughed.