The Search for Missing Timothy Mo – An article by Anne Teoh for Beyond Thirty-Nine
I was alerted late, in 2015, to renew my reading of Timothy Mo’s amazing development since Monkey King and Sweet and Sour. When I started reading his early Oriental novels in the 80s, the Oxford writer had gone on to produce, “An Insular Possession, The Reluctance of Courage, Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard, Renegade or Halo 2 and Pure.” He had moved ahead into writing the 21st century modus operandi from the late 80s, but he was at his most prolific and outstanding mode from the 1990s to 2012. His books of this period surged way ahead of his time and put us in the postmodernist threshold. We await his next epic to come with breathless trepidation.
As late as a month ago, Daniel Ben Horin’s crime thriller title, “Timothy Mo is Missing,” caught my attention. He started with a literary review of Timothy Mo’s later writing, showing his support for the absent writer.
“In 1982, 1986, and 1991, Timothy Mo was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which means he was widely considered to have written one of the dozen best novels in the U.K. and all the commonwealth countries in each of those years. As serious fiction writers go, he was top shelf, a star, with a highly literary publisher, Chatto and Windus. But in 1987 that venerable firm became an imprint of the much more commercially carnivorous Random House.” – cited from Daniel Ben Horin: Huffington Post January 17
Daniel Ben Horim’s, review (17 January 2012, Huffington Post) title, “Timothy Mo is Missing,” is confirmed by statements about his disappearance from his fans in ‘The Age of Uncertainty” blog (@blogspot). That led me to more serious trailing of the erstwhile (may be, but pray not) writer and any news of him by Boyd Tonkin, Charles Foran, Brian Finney and Valeria Melchiotto among others.
To pick up the drift from Daniel’s accolade, reading him is a must for any serious consideration about where we’re heading for today. Mo’s world is rollicking fun, despite his tragic-hero genre, he has an all inclusive writer with a mind boggling cast of characters and their linguistic repertoire from the slang gutter snipes to the next level of canteen ladies, middle brow workers, professionals, clergymen to highbrow. In Mo’s social framework, there is equality in representation of class and social ranking without the obnoxious moral stereotypes or bias. Instead, his vastly ugly or faulted characters play up to their identity images and tear down their myths as we are taken through a paradoxical flow of the natural law balancing opprobrium with pragmatism and debauchery with chastity; all very Moesque today.
He takes us into the world of the dispossessed and take us through their survival and adventures; all the while keeping it prolix with his intoxicating linguistic repertoire from the variety of tongues and brows. It’s not so much about background but existence.
Having pushed his creatively indomitable pen into such backwater like those in the politics of Jesus’ time or on our modern stage to expose the real world of the self in the face of ideology and other representations, it is impossible not to connect Timothy Mo’s works with our bewilderment of his whereabouts. Mo’s literary art wrestles with paradoxes, satires and ironies – the plaintive poignancies of our human literature be it our battles with the gods, the devils, with each other, ideologies and even with oneself. His writing takes us to the hotbed of unresolved political correctness, ideologies and freedom of expression; all of which he uses to push boundaries. One’s concerns are eponymous
I had consulted several sources to enquire about their contacts with Timothy Mo. The Fco (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) has, “checked their records and were unable to locate any details about Mr. Mo.” A ray of hope in the research from Google was the finding of Timothy Mo’s article, “Korea is the Focus but this is China Versus Japan,” written for The Guardian on 10 April 2013. Similarly, I had news from a Chinese lady who saw him, “as recent as 2013.” Hallelujah, those were positively joyful news. Hear that, Daniel et al who raised their concerns before April 2013.
Daniel also mentions Timothy’s negligent financial income for his “Brownout Breadfrui Boulevard” book; which prompted him to start his own Paddleless Press. But sales did not pick up due to the lack of marketing skills. Timothy’s new venture flopped and he moved from London to the Philippines or South-East Asia. It is a crying shame that we pay redundant attention to the survival and whereabouts of a great contemporary writer. Perhaps we can help drive a mega sales promotion for the POD of his books or shout for his name at the High street bookshops. This is one way to ensure Timothy Mo’s survival but the more alarming bell booms insistently and reverberatingly loud, about his safety, “Where is Timothy Mo”?
Granted that April 2013 was the cut off point for his disappearance, are 2.8 years of conspicuous absence too short a time for a writer’s ovulation of the next master piece or is it a time to raise alarm about our “Missing Timothy Mo”? I have emailed to Timothy Mo at his Paddleless Press address but heard not a whisper or a whistle. Some of his friends had seen him as late as 2013 but there is dead silence after April 2013. I am keen to have news of the great writer whose writing often leaves his readers, “breathless.” I much doubt Timothy Mo would need the 24-hour protection granted to Salman Rushdie or that someone is after him. But I would like to have it confirmed he is around, and kicking up more dirt under whichever carpet. Perhaps he should start writing poetry and romance novels if the going gets too tough. Will his readers come together and kick start a search for Timothy Mo in every possible corner of the digital and real world?
I have written to the list of three Search for Missing Persons agencies given by the Fco, spoken to the Metropolitan and Local Police and sent an email to Interpol. The police asked if Timothy Mo has parents or relatives, ruling out that reader fans run short of blood ties to query and search. Nevertheless, I sent out my email requests and asked for the Missing Timothy Mo. If any reader comes across any news, please inform us online, via FB. I envisage, if we have a search party, it will largely comprise his readers, friends, colleagues, critics, publishers, solicitors and private detectives and those in literary review journals. Are Timothy Mo’s parents and relatives about and can they help?
We mediate and pray that Timothy Mo is safe but his many good fans and fine critics are raising the alarm that “Timothy Mo is Missing,” (Daniel Ben Horin; 17 January 2012 ; Huffington Post) “out in the dangerous wide world, bringing back never–before-told stories of social meltdown and violently divided societies that speak to us how the jangly 21st century is looking.” (Charles Foran; The Globe and Mail: June 2012)
In the interval, there are some biting issues to trash out, in an anecdotal fashion. There have been critics looking for contrivances of structure, plot and narrative features like the ‘ showing of interior development’ of the old school arguing that lacking these didactic narrative traits, “cut him loose from any structure of causality, historical or psychological.” (Elaine Yee Lin Ho ;Timothy Mo: Manchester and New York: Manchester UP 2000) Brian Finney sees it as a matter of styles debating the constraint of the literary mode of plot driven narrative and Timothy Mo’s choice for thematic concern, preferring to take on an identity apart from any tribe – a Foucauldian perspective, like the already developed renegade of mixed races. Renegades of this era who, “refuse to have their subjectivities wholly interpelted by discursive formations of nationality and race.”
Following Brian Finney’s post-modernist paradigm of the picaresque genre, Mo’s Rey Castro is not so much about a complete individual personality whose actual life experiences are significant in themselves, but rather as a literary convention for the presentation of a variety of satiric observations and comic episodes.’
Within the framework of postmodernist thinking, Brian alluded to Timothy Mo being nominated for the Booker Prize on three occasions but was “ passed over in favor of novelists less controversial and more mainstream in their use of the genre.” Brian also claims that there had been no consensus on which of his novels constitutes his masterpiece, and that “his decision to publish his fifth and sixth novels under his own imprint (Paddleless Press) has further limited his accessibility.”
In Brian Finney’s words, suggest a rankle of affront in the failure to recognize the “ formidable talent “ of a 21st century writer “whose work deserves more recognition than it has received to date, especially outside Britain and Hong Kong where he has received most notice. He is a truly international writer.” ( Brian Finney: Migrancy and the Picaresque – Timothy Mo’s Renegade or Halo2; California State University, Long Beach). Is this about Timothy Mo turning his back to the mainstream publishing and literary world for either their prejudice or failure to recognize this talent of world class standing?
Similarly, Charles Foran moaned the lack of support from the publishing industry for Renegade or Halo2, leading to it being unread and undistributed. He also sees another deficit – “IT’S AUTHOR NOW GONE MISSING.”
Lest we perpetually fear his car careered, his head hit by a durian or his paddling paddlelessly down the El Nino drain, we ask of Timothy Mo to say “Hi, I’m fine.” We wait impatiently for the good news.
I would like to thank Ciriaco Offeddu for his suggestion that I follow up by writing this article. I welcome Timothy Mo’s readers to come forth or go out and seek for our “Missing Timothy Mo,” and I welcome the setting up of a group to promote his books or any publisher or film producer to kick start the advent of a truly happening 21st century, Halo2 or renegade after the Reluctance of Courage ( 1st to be made into a South East Asian classic film). After all, most of the world knows not the Melanesians or the Homo Sapiens or the Neanderthals, the ‘malais’ from the Malays and how to sound the constipated Ng.
All we need is Timothy Mo Not Gone Missing, Not Missing at all, but coming out, always with us, here and about. We wait for it all to happen while we eschew Daniel Ben Horin’s cogitations.
“And then he vanished. I assume he’s alive; there’s no obit. There are no subsequent publications. Maybe he found out he needed a bigger feedback loop than self-publishing provides… more attention, more pomp, some of the celebrity he had turned his back upon. Maybe he was written out, although I doubt it. Maybe he’s ill, or terminally pissed off. Maybe he’s working on an epic.” – cited from Daniel Ben Horin: January 2012: Huffington Post.
Mo, Timothy. The Monkey King. London: Paddleless P, 2000. —. Sour Sweet. London: Sphere, 1983. —. An Insular Possession. New York: Random, 1987. —. The Redundancy of Courage. London: Vintage, 1991. —. Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard. London: Paddleless P, 1995. —. Renegade or Halo2. London: Paddleless P, 2000.
Korea is the Focus but this is China Versus Japan: The Guardian: April10 2013
Boyd Tonkin; Review of Pure by Timothy Mo; 13 April 2012; The Independent
Daniel Ben Horin; Timothy Mo is Missing: 17 January 2012 : Huffington Post
Charles Foran: The Rise and Fall, and Rise Again of the Mysterious Timothy Mo: The Globe and Mail: June 2012
The Age of Uncertainty; June 2008
Brian Finney; Migrancy and the Picaresque: Timothy Mo and Renegade or Halo2
Ho, Elaine Yee Lin. Timothy Mo. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 2000.
Valeria Melchiotto: Pure by Timothy Mo: Writershub: co. uk