An Excerpt from Ponti

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Writing about the new Asian woman, Sharlene Teo, justly lauded as a scene-changer in Singapore for her first novel, Ponti, addresses the different worlds we live in at the Singapore Writers Festival 2018. Here is an excerpt from her award-winning book.

By Sharlene Teo

“Even in this stifling city, where so many interminably young girls on the street seem to be made of porcelain and no matter how many bowls of mee pok they wolf down in food courts, they still seem to fit into their blogshop skirts.”

Chapter 16 Circe 2020

By the time I finish my meeting and come home I’m starving. My flatmate Julius is still out and I’m grateful to have the place to myself. I change into my dreariest, comfiest pyjamas. I’m too lazy to cook so I have four slices of Gardenia bread for dinner instead. One spread thickly with kaya and butter, two with strawberry jam, one with plain butter and white sugar. My tongue goes numb with too much sweetness and my gut will complain later, even without the treacherous worm. I hear the neighbours watching television through the left wall and I wonder if they resent me as much as I resent them for the noise of their living.

I glare into the bathroom mirror as I wipe my eyeliner off. It’s the same face, all right; I’m one of those people who has looked eerily unchanged since childhood. I’ve remained constant in my nondescriptness. I pull at my skin; the flaws I started noticing in flickers from my mid-twenties have decided to stay put and pronounce themselves even more strongly on my face. There are three lines on my forehead, stretched across my skin like guitar strings. I try to smooth them and they disappear for a moment, but only a moment. There are crinkles at the corner of my eyes, and shadows. Pigment spots where the sun hits.

Magazines, with their phoney advocacy of self-love, say that you learn to enjoy being yourself the older you get. In spite of your decrepitude, your decreasing worth. Be a peacefully deteriorating woman; covet, but also accept your lot. Believe in cosmetic products and their promises of preservation. You are supposed to celebrate, not to com-plain; to ripen like a bottle of wine, not a banana; to thrive, not to rot. You are supposed to hold a hairbrush and lip-sync with gusto to Abba or Beyoncé with your sisters and girlfriends. You are supposed to buy tickets for movies that feature montages precisely like that. You are supposed to hand over your money and embrace the straitjacket of who you are and your ageing. Even in this stifling city, where so many interminably young girls on the street seem to be made of porcelain and no matter how many bowls of mee pok they wolf down in food courts, they still seem to fit into their blogshop skirts.

I’m too young to say I’m too old for this. I’m too pasty for someone who lives near the Equator. I finish washing my face and turn to my hands. I can see and feel my worry all over, and it doesn’t make sense because I’ve built nothing valuable from this worry, and in my head I still feel as confused as I did at twenty years old.


Sharlene Teo is a Singaporean law graduate who now resides in the United Kingdom. Her debut novel, Ponti, which has won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award, tells a claustrophobic tale of three women in Singapore.

Photo credit: Barney Poole

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