Ponti by Sharlene Teo
Reading Sharlene Teo's weird and beautiful coming-of-age novel is an overwhelming experience
Sharlene Teo’s debut novel is set in her home island of hot and dusty Singapore. It’s 2003 and sixteen-year-old Szu is struggling to fit in, make friends, or connect to anyone or anything. Her father is AWOL and her mother, Amisa, the once radiant star of horror B-movie Ponti!, is emotionally missing. When Szu meets new girl Circe, a friendship forms between the pair, which progresses in more and more intense ways until it spirals out of control.
Ponti moves between three parallel narrators: Szu in 2003, Amisa as a young woman in the 70s, and Circe in 2020 looking back at her relationship with Szu and her mother. Despite three distinct storylines, the boundaries between past, present, and future begin to erode as ghosts from their respective pasts haunt each of the woman.
The relationship between the three women roots the novel, as does the setting of Singapore. Reading Ponti feels like being in the city: it’s a claustrophobic, confrontational and overwhelming experience. Teo has created a microcosm of her country in the novel.
While Amisa and Circe’s narratives explore the past and future for Singapore, it’s Szu’s haunting voice that is Ponti’s emotional hook. The loneliness of adolescence is a monstrosity manifesting in equally ugly and poetic ways. Ponti is a weird and beautiful bildungsroman and Teo’s writing shines as totally radical. [Katie Goh]
Pan Macmillan, 19 Apr, £14.99