Author: Sharlene Teo
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Pan Macmillan in April 2018
Summary: From Goodreads
2003, Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress 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 an intense friendship and offers Szu a means of escape from her mother’s alarming solitariness.
Seventeen years later, Circe is struggling through a divorce in fraught and ever-changing Singapore when a project comes up at work: a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the very project that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a past that threatens her conscience.
Told from the perspectives of all three women, Ponti is about friendship and memory, about the things we do when we’re on the cusp of adulthood that haunt us years later. Beautifully written by debut author Sharlene Teo, and enormously atmospheric, Ponti marks the launch of an exciting new literary voice in the vein of Zadie Smith.
The first thing I really noticed whilst reading Ponti is how accomplished and unusual the writing is. The prose in this novel has such a biting, acerbic tone to it which just leaps off the page and creates such a strong image in the readers mind. The descriptions are so vivid and sometimes harsh that you can smell and taste everything the author describes. The narrative is split between Szu, Circe and Szu’s mother, Amisa and all take place in different time periods. At the very beginning, this jumping around is a little jarring but its easy to settle into the pattern as they all have such different voices. I’m not sure I particularly liked any of our three narrators very much but that is not something that bothers me at all, sometimes I actually prefer characters that are not easy to like because it can create a more interesting story.
There is a lot to unpack in this relatively short novel. One of the main themes is friendship. The friendship or lack thereof between Szu and Circe is very well done. It is quite accurate of some types of teenage female friendships and displays the competition, jealousy and hostility mixing with affection and loyalty that becomes a challenge for both girls. Another really interesting aspect of Ponti is the relationship between Szu and her mother, Amisa. There is a real sadness and pain about the evidently difficult relationship they have. It was fascinating to see Amisa from, at first, Szu’s angry perspective and then later to hear from Amisa herself about her past. Amisa is such a tricky character to get a read on, she at times seems so shallow and cruel but at other times it is hard not to feel sympathy for her. Nothing is very straightforward in this novel and everything is not wrapped up neatly. It is more of a character piece than plot driven which some readers might struggle with but I enjoyed.
Overall, Ponti felt like a really unique reading experience. The prose is so powerful and brutally honest that it makes reading about these characters all the more intense. I would have liked the book to continue as the ending felt slightly abrupt to me. However, despite that, I really enjoyed reading such a passionate and at times sorrowful novel which has been written by a clearly very talented author. I don’t think Ponti is a book I will forget quickly.
I received this e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.