The Slippery Complexities of Human Behavior on Display in Ivy Ngeow’s Novel Masterpiece Overboard

“A stranger. She is trying to show you a grain of kindness but it turns into a beach of bitterness.”

A stranger…tossed overboard from a burning yacht in a raging storm that claims the lives of all onboard…except him.

He wakes up, battered, burned, unrecognizable…an amnesiac…in a Thai hospital…with amazing food.

From the intoxicating smell of homecooked cuisine in a foreign hospital…to the way non-native speakers of a language have their feelings often misinterpreted…it’s these types of sharp, evocative details that litter and bloom in Ivy Ngeow’s smart, witty, satirical, dark, complex, twisting globe-hopping psychological thriller.

The amnesiac’s point of view is boldly done in second person narration, and it’s one of the few times I’ve found this to work well. But it’s not just his story, there are other POVs (like a philosophical Polish plumber with a pet Burmese python living in London, and a rich widow caught up in legal disputes) done in third person limited, and all circumnavigate each other in startling ways leading to a shocking denoument.

Apart from the perceptive details, there are sardonic notes on materialism and obsessions with brands. Many of the characters walk through their carefully curated lives like amnesiacs who can only remember their identity by the brands they wear or procure.

Like Christian Petzold’s film Phoenix and Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, identity, amnesia, and transforming oneself hang over the proceedings like a pall. Ngeow’s spin on the themes, however, are decidedly modern and channeled through technology and interior design. Her characters foolishly build protective walls around themselves with their possessions and hobbies, often unaware of their true selves and how others perceive them through the veils of technology and language. Ngeow’s sardonic wit and voice echo back to the best of Graham Greene. And much like Greene’s work, Overboard, finds that delicate balance between thrilling entertainment and keenly observant literature inundated with the slippery complexities of human behavior.

Overboard is a modern, novel masterpiece. An absolute must-read.

Review by D. H. Schleicher