Since I am now in a writer’s mentorship programme, I thought I should read more books by local writers to evaluate the quality of work which attracts local publishers. This book, incidentally, has been shortlisted for the Singapore’s Literary Award.
The story is loosely based on a news article where a body, if I recall correctly, that of a man, was found in a pool in The Cove at Sentosa.
In this story however, a body of that of a PRC woman was discovered naked in the pool. Though the narratives of various people connected to the case, we are introduced to their life story, the idiosyncrasies of Singapore that seem ironically unique to me.
Ling is the PRC national who was found in the pool. We Singaporeans love abbreviations and this is evident in the book. Through her death, we get acquainted with Jasper Gan, nephew of Willlie Gan, whose house pool Ling drowned in. Assistant Superintendent Cheung Fai and his boss Winston were put in charged of the case.
So instead of suspense and build ups as is normally expected in murder mysteries, readers are introduced to various stereotypical Singaporeans and their perceptions of immigrants whom the government so liberally admitted at the beginning of the millenia until the recent election.
It was interesting to read how an Oxford graduate in law (which the writer is) tried to empathise with ordinary Singaporeans growing up in poverty and bitter about the rich, and then making it up the sicial ladder in our meritocratic society. Personally if I am a twenty or thirty-something Singaporean (I am almost 50) in 2008, it would be quite difficult to find extreme poverty even if one had grown up in a farm as a child, unless you come from a dysfunctional family. But then I grew up in relatively middle class so I may be wrong.
While the book was a page turner for me because of my interest in local writings, I had to pause many times to check the dictionary for the bombastic and unfamiliar vocabulary the writer favoured. The other book I had read that required similar companionship with a dictionary was also written by a Chinese based in Canada. While I appreciate the opportunity to learn new vocabulary, I wondered if she was trying too hard? See if you know these words: uxoriousness, abnegate, apoplectic, temerity, cavilled.
As a Singaporean reading another Singapore literature, it’s difficult not to nitpick so pardon me for pointing out two here.
Cheung Fai immigrated from Hong Kong to Singapore as a child. It’s incredulous to find a Hong Kong person who has no English name and Cheung Fai is still known as Cheung Fai? Personally I have not come across Hong Konger without English names.
I noticed the terms qipao and cheongsum used depending on who the wearer is. The lounge mistress wears a cheongsum but Ling wears a qipao. Aren’t they the same?
I also noticed one or two sloppy editing and wondered if it’s me or the editing.
These aside, it’s rather refreshing to read books which are familiar and without the female protagonist suffering through extremity which are so favoured by Chinese female writers. (This was pointed out to me by writer Colin Cheong. Indian female writers, on the other hand, tend to centre around mangoes, monsoon and marriage. )
So support local writers by reading this book, and mine included when it’s published.