I feature mostly artbooks on my blog but I've made an exception for this book because of the controversy that surrounds it.
The Phantom of Oxley Castle is a children book written by Liana Gurung and Chloe Tong, illustrated by Anngee Neo. It is supposed to be a children book but there's really nothing educational about it. I enjoy the simple illustration style art but the plot is anti-climatic and has no perceivable merit. Immediately after I read the book, I knew I had wasted my money.
And I wonder why there's a need to have two authors when there's only a sentence or two on each page in this 32-page book.
Yet, the book was sold out (from an initial print run of 2,000).
The controversy behind the book is way more interesting than the book. The time you can spend reading stories about the controversy will be longer than the time it takes to read the book. Unfortunately, people are not going to remember the book (not a bad thing) for the content, but for the controversy.
The book is clearly inspired by the Lee family saga over the house at Oxley Road.
We see Oxley being used in the title. Anyone who has been following the saga should be able to make a connection. There are three kids in the story, coincidentally they are two boys and a girl, just like the main characters in the saga. And there's a butler called OB MarKus which is a play on the word OB Markers, a term used in Singapore to denote topics that are permissible for pubic discussion. There's there's even a book about it. The only smart thing about this book is the name of the butler.
The Phantom of Oxley Castle looks like an attempt at satire, but the the attempt is lousy to the point of being lame. I can understand if Epigram Books and the authors are attempting CollegeHumor level of satire but this is at the opposite spectrum.
The satire link to the saga is very weak. You can certainly make some connections to the saga if you want to. I've striked out the following text so that you can skip it if you don't want spoilers.
For example, the book mentions things like the kids should not hurt their father's legacy, the kids wandering past a stately organ (Lee Hsien Yang alleged organs of the state were used against him), OB MarKus saying that they are "not in a Korean drama", and that there may be a secret committee waiting to punish the kids for being out of bed.
And the story has an anti-climatic ending that made me go, "That's all? That's the S$18.08 that I spent. I finished the book in less than 5 minutes." You could spend the same amount of money on a good movie and a meal, maybe with a drink thrown in and feel better.
If it's a children book, I'm not sure what parents can teach their kids. Don't stay up too late? Don't go out too late? Don't go check on strange noise? Always listen to adults? Don't ruin your parents' legacy?
A controversy like this did help sell the book. But it's going to leave a bitter aftertaste for anyone who has bought the book. People who bought the book are not going to remember Epigram Books in a good light. But hey, as long as the book sells, nothing else matters, right?