A debut novel about friendships in present-day Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress—who gained fame for her portrayal of a ghost—and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into a fraught friendship that will haunt them both for decades to come.
In her debut novel, Teo artfully collects various stories and rolls them into one seamless narrative. It is at once a subtle critique of the pressures of living in a modern Asian metropolis; a record of the swiftness and ruthlessness with which south-east 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.
Switching between the perspectives of her three central protagonists Teo entwines three independently engaging narratives about troubled women into a grand, unified account of how hurt and damage is carried through the years and within relationships. With its thoughtful plot and vibrant prose, Ponti is one of the more assured debuts I’ve read recently ... Too many first novels coast along on a fad-like buzz rather than the promise of a genuine upward trajectory, but everything about Ponti suggests it’s the rare, real deal and Teo’s a writer we’ll be reading for many years to come.
The Singapore in Sharlene Teo’s Ponti is vivid and immediate, its people complex, beautifully sketched and captivating ... Teo’s Singapore is exquisite, lush and menacing. The suffocating streets of the country’s red light district are packed with leering men; children grow up hearing fables of oily male ghosts that sneak into girls’ beds. This is a place that will be familiar to many Singaporeans: colourful and bewitching, a city of the earthy and the sublime.