Posted in Review

Ponti – Sharlene Teo


‘It is 2003, and in the sweltering heat of Singapore sixteen year olds Szu and Circe develop an intense friendship. For Szu it offers an escape from Amisa, her beautiful, cruel mother – once an actress and now the silent occupant of their rusty house. But for Circe, their friendship does the opposite, bringing her one step closer to the fascinating, unknowable Amisa.

Seventeen years later, Circe finds herself adrift and alone. And then a project comes up at work, a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the same series 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 lost friendship that threatens her conscience…’

Szu is not a popular girl. She doesn’t have the ‘right’ looks, or personality to really fit in with the other girls at school. She feels like an outsider, and a let-down, especially to her distant and critical mother, Amisa. Amisa is beautiful in an ethereal sort of way, and Szu feels like she will never live up to her expectations.

Circe befriends Szu one day in school when Szu helps her after an attack by a wild dog. Circe is very hot and cold, kind one minute and distant and judgemental of Szu and her house the next. This is a trait that follows her through into adulthood, causing her to get divorced and have few friends.

I have to first of all say that I was kindly sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I requested it from the publisher and was lucky enough to receive it.

So, that being said, unfortunately, this book was not really for me. It’s purely a matter of personal preference, I just never warmed to it.

What I Liked

– It is a female lead narrative. It’s no secret that I love a female narrative, and I will always highlight and celebrate it. This book is split into three narratives ; Szu, Circe, and Amisa. Each character has a different style and distinct personalities.

-It is well sectioned, and easy to read. I’ve complained previously that books with various narratives and timelines can be messy and hard to follow. However, Ponti, while split like this, is very easy to follow, each chapter is named and dated.

-I enjoyed the setting of Singapore, and references to the way of life there. It’s not an area  I have read much about, or have much knowledge about. It made a nice change to read a book with a different and unfamiliar (to me) setting.

What I Didn’t Like

-The main characters. I found I couldn’t warm to any of the three main characters. I found them all to be quite negative, and judgemental. Szu doesn’t seem to like anybody around her, even going so far as to wish her teacher would get cancer and die..(to be honest, that happened quite early in the book and it definitely plays a part in why I didn’t like it much, that really didn’t sit well with me). Circe is hard to please, and seems to only be friends with Szu because she has nobody else. Amisa uses people around her for her own gain and is distant and cold towards people, even her own daughter.

-I found a few things weren’t explored or explained properly, such as why Szu’s father left them, what exactly happened to make him walk out. I would have liked the back story into what happened between Amisa starring in the Ponti films and her getting pregnant with Szu, and then ending up being a business partner with the older woman Yunxi, Szu’s ‘auntie’. The book jumps between Szu and Circe in 2003 and 2020, but it doesn’t really fill in many of the events that took place over those years. I think if their lives were explored more, it might have been easier to like the characters.

So, overall, not a book for me. I just really disliked the characters and that made it difficult to enjoy the book. Like I said though, that’s entirely my personal preference and opinion, and I have read many postive reviews for it. That’s the beauty of books though, what works for one reader doesn’t work for another.

I give Ponti two and a half out of five stars.

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