- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 4, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1501173111
- ISBN-13: 978-1501173110
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ponti Hardcover – September 4, 2018
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“With brilliant descriptive power and human warmth, Sharlene Wen-Ning Teo summons the darker currents of modernity – environmental degradation, the suffocating allure of the sparkling modern city and its cataracts of commodities and corrupted language. Against this, her characters glow with life and humour and minutely observed desperation. I read this extract longing for more.” –Ian McEwan, author of The Children Act and Atonement
“This haunting debut hopscotches between decades and cultures, eschewing the usual moves of the coming-of-age story for something truer to the desperate, surreal stakes of adolescence. Sharlene Teo is a daring and genuinely original novelist.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
"A radiant, achingly beautiful novel about relationships between women." —Megan Hunter, author of The End We Start From
"Ponti is darkly hilarious. It offers up all the anxiety, snark, sadness, and wonder of being a teenager. Teo guides us through the grunge of growing up. She asks what it means to be a monster and what it means to be beautiful. Is it possible to be both?" —Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You
“Witty, moving and richly evocative, Ponti paints a portrait of a country and a people negotiating the throes of modernity. It also announces a major talent — Sharlene Teo has produced not just a singular debut, but a milestone in South East Asian literature.” —Tash Aw, author of Five Star Billionaire
“Sensuous . . . The Singapore in Sharlene Teo’s Ponti is vivid and immediate, its people complex, beautifully sketched and captivating.” —The Times Literary Supplement
"Everything about Ponti suggests it’s the rare, real deal and Teo’s a writer we’ll be reading for many years to come.” —Financial Times
“At once a subtle critique of the pressures of living in a modern Asian metropolis; a record of the swiftness and ruthlessness with which Southeast Asia has changed over the last three decades; a portrait of the old juxtaposed with the new (and an accompanying dialogue between nostalgia and cynicism); an exploration of the relationship between women against the backdrop of social change; and, occasionally, a love story—all wrapped up in the guise of a teenage coming-of-age novel. . . . Teo is brilliant.” —The Guardian
About the Author
Sharlene Teo is a Singaporean writer based in the UK. She is the winner of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award for Ponti, her first novel. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Esquire UK, Magma Poetry, and Eunoia Review. She is the recipient of the 2013 David T.K. Wong Creative Writing Fellowship and the 2014 Sozopol Fiction Fellowship.
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Szu and Circe up until the end seemed interchangeable (and the fact that they had pretty identical voices albeit narrating from different time slots did not help). Both of them exhausted me by the end, because this same beauty of the language used by these characters worn out quite quickly, and what was left were a teenager and a stunted adult trying to be shocking. Normally if I were to read a woman narrating her worm or wishing for a man to plop a turd into the toilet bowl, I would be happy about the sordid realism. But by the time these things were mentioned in the book, I was already rolling my eyes, because I knew it was not going anywhere, it was just for show, to make the characters more intriguing than they were. Sharlene Teo might know her way with words but she’s no Kobo Abe, Taeko Kono, etc. At least, for now. Maybe this is what happens when young people write novels without looking back.
The biggest heartache of all: Amisa was incredibly boring for the fascinating character that she was supposed to be. The other seemingly truly interesting characters, such as the Aunt and the oily people were never fully addressed. Which, to be honest, is a mystery to me, because I can’t fully acknowledge what it was that took up the real estate that could have been better spent on such juiciness. When I was done with the novel, I was like: erm, so, where did all the language and time go? And I had no idea. I don’t know.
Reading this book was like sitting down in front of a zoom-in mirror and popping all the zits and blackheads on your face you never noticed you’d had. Satisfying for the time being, yes, but regrettable and gross afterwards. Which, I guess, is a triumph of Teo’s atmospheric flourishes but not much else.
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.
The novel flits back and forth which could almost short vignettes in the same film with the snow from the TV screen separating one character from another. These are snapshots of their lives, their chance to tell their story and it works very well indeed. The timelines, the gaps inbetween the years felt very well handled by this author.
This is a novel of many themes and layers – it’s definately focused on characters and their shared background. And what a background it is. Obsessive friendships, ugliness and beauty, overpowering mothers and so much more. There is a lot of sharp social commentary which reveals just as much about the cultural setting and the time than the characters do.
That’s not to say Singapore is not a character. The heat steams from each and every page. The colourful streets, the noise, the grey tower blocks all play their role as the characters move around like chess pieces. Each thing has an effect on someone and something else.
Unique and recommended.