Singapore in literature: Sharlene Teo

16 April 2018

Sharlene Teo’s portrayal of Singapore in her award-winning debut novel, Ponti, is as rich and vivid as the the stories of the three women that she writes. Here, Sharlene shares some of her favourite recent Singaporean books, and the authors who have influenced her as a writer. Ponti is published in hardback, ebook and audiobook on 19th April 2018. 

Singapore has a burgeoning literary scene that is as dynamic and reflective of the constantly evolving cityscape as it is varied. I started writing poetry when I was thirteen, inspired and moved by local writers such as Alfian Sa’at, Cyril Wong, Ho Poh Fun and Heng Siok Tian. Presently, publishers such as Maths Paper Press and Ethos Books champion the work of contemporary poets such as Theophilius Kwek, Pooja Nansi and Joshua Ip. The Singaporean literary map is ever expanding, and all the richer and more unexpected or genre bending for it. For fans of speculative literary fiction, JY Yang, Rachel Heng, Daryl Qilin Yam and Thea Lim all have recent or forthcoming works. If you enjoy historical fiction, writers such as Vyvyanne Loh and Sandi Tan have woven rich narratives around the large-scale traumas of the Second World War and decolonisation in innovative and surprising ways.

I could go on, but for the sake of brevity, here are six of my favourite recent Singaporean titles:

State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang

This is a beautifully written, sweeping and serious saga about Jason, Siew Li and their extended family, and a deeply political Singaporean opus. The novel traces the family’s entanglements in leftist movements, political detentions and riots. Taking place from the 1940s to the present day, State of Emergency is a brave, meticulously researched novel that emphasises that there are multiple strands and facets to every narrative.

Find out more

The Gatekeeper by Nuruliah Norasid

The Gatekeeper is a work of fabulist fiction about a young girl named Ria with the medusa-like power to turn people into stone. She and her older sister flee to Nelroote, an underground settlement populated by other marginalised beings. Melding Singaporean, Malay and Greek influences, this is an innovative, pertinent and intelligent exploration of race relations in Singapore, in the guise of a transporting fable.

Find out more

The Beating and Other Stories by Dave Chua

Stripping back the high-paced, super-slick image that Singapore presents to the global community (most notably, and damningly, in William Gibson’s notorious expose “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”), The Beating and Other Stories is concerned with the melancholy, understated underside of Singaporean heartland living. With a minimalistic prose style and an unforced sensitivity of vision, this collection explores urban alienation and existential malaise to wonderful effect.

Find out more

Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Set in Singapore between the 1970s to the 1990s, Inheritance explores the shifting political and social landscape of Singapore through the multiple perspectives of a Punjabi Sikh family whose existence is ruptured by the disappearance and reappearance of fifteen-year old Amrit. This novel navigates issues of racial and national identity in a multi-ethnic young nation in elegant and insightful ways.

Find out more

Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe

This spunky and whimsical short story collection introduces us to a motley cast of characters- from an ageing Pop Yeh-yeh singer who reunites with his teenaged sweetheart in a hospice, to two loners exploring every park on the island. Both illuminating and entertaining, Ministry of Moral Panic presents a vivid, quirky vision of modern Singapore.

Find out more

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-lien Tan

Don’t be fooled by its glossy veneer. Sarong Party Girls is a serious, whip-smart novel with brutal and fearlessly accurate observations about gender norms, Occidentalism, Orientalism and sexual dynamics in Singapore. Centering around twenty-seven year old Jazzy and her coterie of ang moh (Caucasian) pursuing female friends, the book is written entirely in the Singlish patois and is full of wit and pathos: it has so much to say and is utterly unafraid to say it.

Find out more

Sharlene Teo's debut novel, Ponti, is published in hardback, ebook and audiobook on 19th April 2018. Find out more here.

You may also like