2016’s The Oddfits is the first volume in Tiffany Tsao’s Oddfits series.
Returning to his native Singapore after decades of adventure elsewhere, Yusuf bin Hassim opens an ice cream store. His store is also a means of finding just the right person for a special role. His vigilance is rewarded: Yusuf recognizes in young Murgatroyd Floyd a kindred spirit, someone with the necessary qualities. All Yusuf need do now is inform the boy of his great destiny.
This is not to be. Murgatroyd visits his favourite ice cream store to find it closed. Yusuf has died of old age. The wonderful secret he was going to tell Murgatroyd is left unsaid.
Being an ang moh, a white person, in Singapore is not necessarily an asset. Murgatroyd certainly finds his race a handicap. His eccentric parents, James and Olivia, homeschooled him for years, then suddenly dropped him into an educational system for which he was completely unprepared. Even though they were told that their son was being mercilessly bullied, James and Olivia refused to look for a more suitable school. Instead, they announced that the solution was to give Murgatroyd a “Chinese” name, saddled him with the nonsensical cognomen Shwet Foo, and left Murgatroyd where he was.
Murgatroyd survived school — somehow — and became a disappointing adult. Poorly educated, malnourished, hunched, Murgatroyd is a bachelor. His every attempt at romance has failed, sometimes spectacularly. He has just three bright spots in his life: his seemingly doting parents, his best (and only) friend, Seng Kay Huat, and a genuine talent for serving as a waiter at Shakti Vithani’s prestigious restaurant, L’Abattoir.
Decades after Murgatroyd should have been initiated into the Oddfits, Oddfits member Ann finally finds Murgatroyd. She explains that he is, like Ann, an Oddfit, able to perceive and travel into the other-dimensional extensions of our four-dimensional world. Most people limit their perception to the Known World. Only Oddfits can explore and map the More Known World, as they call the greater realm.
It has taken destiny a long time to find Murgatroyd’s address. Having done so, it beckons. This presents Murgatroyd with a difficult choice: heed the call to adventure or remain loyal to his friend, his boss, and his family.
His connections would insist he stay. For bad reasons, really.
Murgatroyd’s friend Seng Kay Huat believes that he is far more hardworking, smart, and extraordinary than poor dull, dim Murgatroyd. If someone is to have a great destiny, it should be Seng Kay Huat.
Likewise, James and Olivia Floyd have spent their entire lives amusing themselves by inventing novel, ingenious ways of tormenting Murgatroyd, the child they loathe. If Murgatroyd escapes, their fun will be over.
As for Shakti Vithani, his boss, she sees Murgatroyd as her creation. If she cannot have Murgatroyd as her precious, grossly underpaid employee, nobody can. Thus, she dispatches a trusted underling to murder naïve Murgatroyd.
Murgatroyd reminds one of a wolf-child. One has to wonder whether his dismal childhood is something from which he can recover. Will the Oddfits be able to rehabilitate him?
Readers who don’t want to read about terrible things being done for years to an innocent kid might want to give this book a miss.
The Floyds appear at first to be eccentric ex-pats of a certain type, whose unfortunate treatment of their son is a tragic side-effect of their essential impracticality. Not so! The couple are no eccentrics. They are spectacularly malicious villains, whose every bit of bad advice is calculated to cause their son as much misery as possible. It’s credit to the Floyds that Vithani is at best a distant second in the villain ranking — and she’s planning having Murgatroyd killed.
Why all this hatred? There’s a side-effect to being an Oddfit that may be driving how people react to Murgatroyd. The Known World has an allergic reaction to Oddfits. The more the Oddfits explore the More Known World, the more extreme (and potentially lethal) the Known World’s reaction when they return to it. Ann can only visit the Known World for a few hours before potentially fatal accidents start happening to her.
Rather like Murgatroyd’s life, the plot does not move with any particular urgency, at least until Murgatroyd’s life is at stake. The author slowly doles out revelations while detailing the deprived and miserable life of her unfortunate protagonist. Murgatroyd is destined for a life of thrilling adventure … but not in this novel.
Although readers anxious for a conventional adventure plot will be disappointed, the author paints Singapore and her cast of characters effectively, particularly its villains. Poor Murgatroyd has trouble shining but his daily struggles, actively sabotaged as he is by his parents, are quite vivid.
The Oddfits is out of print. I know, that’s kind of odd for a book as recent as this one. The explanation is here.