Novel set in Singapore

7th January 2019

Ponti by Sharlene Teo, novel set in Singapore.


Novel set in Singapore

The title of the book refers to a series of 3 films made in the later 20th Century starring Amisa. In part, this is her story but also story of Szu, her daughter and of her daughter’s friend Circe. Ponti, referring to Pontianak, is a female vampiric ghost in Malay mythology.

Amisa is a beauty who turns many heads but her outer allure is marred by an inner ugliness that is oftentimes heaped on her daughter Szu. Much of their world now is downbeat, depressing and even the fish in their tank swim their circuits in rather rank, green water.

At school Szu is not a popular teenager but is befriended by Circe. Theirs is at some level an intangible friendship that sustains them through all the angst  prevalent in their age group. From the year 2020 Circe looks back at the time spent with Szu and her mother, prompted by a remake of the Ponti films that she herself is working on.

The narrative is put together like scenes from a film, spliced together in a random way. The chapters flip between time periods and characters, which is a little jarring. However, I feel this is done to reflect the fractured nature of the relationships portrayed in the novel.

Singapore as a backdrop, spanning the 50 odd years during which the storyline is set, is depicted as a constant, evolving city. The author has a real eye for detail and description of place and time and a gifted writing style. The writing is very evocative of the city.

Ponti is a debut novel that experiments with an unusual and very original construct. It feels like it has been inspired by the snapchat formula, vivid and compelling at the point of reading but ultimately perhaps a little transient. It is powerful in many ways, assured and poignant.

I will be very interested to see where the writer goes in her next novel.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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