Ponti by Sharlene Teo
In 2003, Szu is a lonely convent-school student, living with her sickly mother and a woman she takes to be her aunt. In the rundown bungalow bought with her long-departed father’s lottery winnings, the women operate a spiritual business linking the bereaved with the dead. Now sixteen, life is about to change for Szu: although she’ll make a friend, she’ll suffer a bereavement of her own.
Circe is an advertising executive in the very near future, brought low by a tapeworm and a protracted divorce, when a new project reunites her with her past. A film studio is to release a remake of an obscure 70s horror series, ‘Ponti’, based on the Malaysian legend of the Pontianak, a beautiful female vampire-figure feeding on the flesh of men. Had she not been friends with Szu at school, Circe might never have been aware of the original. But the girl had been fiercely proud of her mother Amisa’s role.
Narrated from the points of view of each of the three women, Sharlene Teo’s debut novel is a story of female friendship, mothers and daughters, and an Asian society undergoing rapid change. I can’t recall having read any other novels set in Singapore, but Szu’s chapters in particular evoke the suffocating pollution, humidity and equatorial heat. Although I wasn’t altogether satisfied with the resolution, I enjoyed the read, courtesy of publishers Picador.
Falling Leaves by Stefan Mohamed
If that’s not weird enough, she gets a call from her aunt saying Mark, Vanessa’s best friend from childhood, has turned up, seven years after disappearing without a trace. Shocked and confused, Vanessa takes the train to their home town in Wales. Sure enough, it’s Mark who is not only unable to account for the missing years but he’s still sixteen.
Before they can make sense of the situation, Mark’s life is endangered and the pair go on the run. But can things really be that serious and is Vanessa enough of a grown-up to give him the support and protection he needs?
You know a book’s going to be weird when the blurb reads
Seven years ago, Vanessa’s best friend Mark vanished without a trace. Now he’s back, not a day older, as though no time has passed.
But you never quite know how weird. While I couldn’t much relate to the eventual explanation for Mark’s disappearance, Falling Leaves is a page-turning adventure story about marginalised identities and the gulf between the early and late stages of adolescence. Thanks to Salt for my review copy.