Razor-sharp and vulgar but also vulnerable, almost twenty-seven-year-old Jazzy comes up with a plan. By the end of the year she and her three best friends, Imo, Fann and Sher, will, following spectacular weddings, be married to rich ang moh (Western, white expat) husbands, be living in luxury and be looking forward to designer (“Chanel”) babies. As this story follows her quest to make these dreams a reality, it explores the political, cultural and social divides in Singapore and the aspirations of a young woman who doesn’t want her life choices to be limited by her background.

I hadn’t expected to struggle as much as I did with this book and have to admit that I picked it up and put it down on several occasions and seriously considered just giving up on it, mainly because I found it difficult to feel anything other than irritated by the main character! I recognise that although in many ways she was well-portrayed, her superficial, frivolous attitudes throughout most of the story were far too reminiscent of the distorted expectations which are fuelled by celebrity culture and “reality” television shows! I also disliked the many ways in which Jazzy’s attitude towards other women was so often judgemental – there was little sense of much sisterly solidarity! Towards the very end of the story she did show signs that she was beginning to value what’s really important in life and in relationships, but I would have liked to know more about how she would go on to develop her newly-acquired insights!

Much of the story is told in Singlish (a mixture of English and Singaporean slang) and although I soon adapted to its distinctive cadence and was able to understand most of the Singlish words by the context within which they were used, there were some words which I needed to look up in order to be sure of their meaning. I’m sure that this contributed to my difficulty in feeling able to enjoy a “seam-free” reading experience – a glossary would have solved this particular problem! What I did come to enjoy were the rather cutting observations of life in multi-layered Singapore, with its deeply entrenched social and gender divisions and the exploration of the difficulties faced by anyone, but particularly women, who want to break free from such well-established restrictions. Unfortunately, there were times when I felt the author was inclined to hammer home these frustrations and difficulties – “less is more” is usually a more effective approach! Also, the fact that the frothier, chick-lit aspects of the story-telling often felt equally over-stated, meant that this was a book which held a lot of promise which it didn’t quite manage to deliver. However, there are several themes which could make this an interesting choice for groups to consider.

Linda Hepworth 2/3

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Allen & Unwin 9781911630302 pbk Aug 2019