Laknat is a debut novel by Fahmi Mustaffa, published by Fixi.
Laknat is also the first Malay novel that I finished reading. I think.
There’s something about the book that’s unputdownable; this is coming from someone who has a difficult time reading Malay fiction. There’s a certain poetry and lyricism in the author’s prose that I fell in love with the storytelling despite the flaws in the story itself. There’s a certain beauty in the theological and philosophical discourse within this book that I closed one eye to the fact that they were paragraphs upon paragraphs of expositions/info-dumps.
Throughout the novel, the author consistently shows a flair with words that the lyricism felt beautiful and natural. For instance, this sentence: “Bila dikeji oleh orang agama sendiri, Shelly jadi malu dan benci.”
However, there are times when the rhymes felt forced that I was left thinking maybe the poetry in the prose was premeditated, after all. For instance: “Shelly sayangnya ditemui mati dilanggar lari oleh lori tidak jauh dari madrasah itu sendiri, mengikut saksi.”
There were passages from the Quran aplenty; sometimes it felt like I was reading a sermon or a theological lecture instead of a story. But there were also passages from the Vedas and songs in German and scientific as well as philosophical arguments that strongly suggested that the author has put in extensive research in crafting this novel. Though at times these info-dumps felt heavy-handed (see my review on Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol regarding expositions), they were mostly handled with such finesse that I kept turning the pages.
Right from the start you get to feel—and understand—Amar’s contempt toward the Almighty, which is equally opposed by Hakim’s love toward Him. While Amar blames the Almighty for not doing anything while his elder brother raped him on a nightly basis for six years, Hakim finds peace and grace despite his parents’ untimely demise and people’s prejudice against his unshakable faith. They somehow end up as great friends.
Then there are Professors Hawking and de Souza. One was a staunch atheist and dreams to become a god among humans, and the other is on a mission to find God and faith through every scripture that exists. Hawking’s story ends abruptly, with no revelation on his secret research except for a subtle hint from his granddaughter toward the end of the novel. de Souza’s story twists from one way to another, and then twists again.
I’ll be honest. This novel is a total mindfuck. From a sane and intellectual discourse on homosexuality and Islam, the novel careens into absolute chaos. Where Nazi Goreng jumped out of the author’s control, this beautiful chaos stayed its course in the deft hands of Fahmi Mustaffa.
Could the ending have been stronger? Absolutely. It felt rushed, with every shitty imaginable thing happening almost all at once. Things went overly melodramatic, even. There were also plenty of potential angles that could have been explored more. As far as psychological thrillers go, though, I will reiterate that this novel is a total mindfuck.
It is, to me, unputdownable.
I’m thinking about offering to translate this book into English so that the entire world can read it. People won’t necessarily enjoy reading it, especially the ending, but there is so much to love in the intellect and brilliance of the prose.
Also, reading this novel made me realize how sheltered and naïve my life—and in extension, the stories that I write—is.
For making me think I may be missing out on a treasure trove of Malay literature by not reading Malay novels, and for being unputdownable despite its flaws, I rate Laknat 7/10.