Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan


Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
First published in the USA by William Morrow in July 2016. Republished in the UK by Allen And Unwin on the 1st August 2019.

2019 COYER Summer Hunt read

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Just before her twenty-seventh birthday, Jazzy hatches a plan. Before the year is out, she and her best girlfriends will all have spectacular weddings to rich ang moh - Western expat - husbands, with Chanel babies to follow.

As Jazzy - razor-sharp and vulgar, yet vulnerable - fervently pursues her quest to find a white husband, the contentious gender politics and class tensions thrumming beneath the shiny exterior of Singapore's glamorous nightclubs are revealed. Desperate to move up in Asia's financial and international capital, will Jazzy and her friends succeed?

Vividly told in Singlish - colourful Singaporean English with its distinctive cadence and slang - Sarong Party Girls brilliantly captures the unique voice of a young, striving woman caught between worlds. With remarkable vibrancy and empathy, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan brings not only Jazzy, but her city of Singapore, to dazzling, dizzying life.

Sarong Party Girls is a difficult novel for me to review because I am almost exactly straddling the fence as to whether I loved or hated it - hence the dead centre 3 star rating! To start with the positives, Tan's having written the whole novel in Singlish (Singapore English) is an inspired touch which appealed to everything I love about global reading. The language takes a little concentration in the early chapters, but I soon got into the swing of its rhythms and idioms and, in fact, carried on thinking in Singlish for several hours after I finished binge reading the story. Singapore's night life and 'cattle market' dating scene is so vividly rendered that its sordidness and horror seeps from every page. I previously had an impression of the island as a clean, orderly place, but Sarong Party Girls allows us to ogle a very different way of life once the sun sets and the bars open. The culture clash between predatory white 'ang moh' men just out for sex and the often equally as callous Asian women out to trap them into marriage is bizarre. The novel has a strong sense of authenticity so I could easily believe these degrading scenarios, and found myself upset and angered at the ridiculous waste of lives - and good alcohol!

Our narrator, Jazeline, is a woman in her late twenties who frequently behaves as though she is still a teenager. She is forthright and very opinionated, racist, sexist, and determined to bag herself an ang moh marriage at any cost. Anything else is completely unacceptable to her even to the extent that she is outrageously spiteful to a friend who found her Happy Ever After with a Singaporean man. I couldn't empathise with her at all and I think it was this lack of connection which took away from my enjoyment of the novel. Jazzy has a good job, but cannot envisage herself with any future other than perpetually shopping at designer stores on her wealthy husband's credit card and I cannot envisage how that kind of trophy wife existence can be satisfying! In a way, Sarong Party Girls is a twenty-first century successor to manhunt novels such as Pride And Prejudice or Bridget Jones and I recognised similar attitudes at times. What is missing though is any sense of romance or love. Jazzy isn't a romantic heroine by any stretch!


Etsy Find!
by My Rehab Store in
Auckland, New Zealand

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Books by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan / Women's fiction / Books from Singapore

8 comments:

  1. oh I love that you are adding Etsy finds o your post. I bet you have been doing it forever and ever distracted me just noticed LOL

    So one of those "I don't know if I loved or hated it" books huh?

    I don't think I have ever read anything in Singlish! funny you ended up thinking in Singlish for several hours

    This is a topic that I definitely love to read so I'll add it to the TBR [though just reading your review made me mad LOL!]

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    1. The Etsy finds weren't here until very recently so I don't think you could have seen them before!
      I think if one can empathise with Jazzy, then Sarong Party Girls would be a 4-5 star read. I just kept getting so exasperated with everybody!

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  2. Yeah this one sounds pretty bad... Great review!

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    1. It's a shame. Good writing and depictions of these Singaporean lifestyles, but I couldn't get on with the characters' attitudes

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  3. Oh wow... I was hoping for more love after hearing it was written in Singapore English... It's too bad that she is such a hateful narrator. You'd think she'd be happy for the friend since she didn't bag a white guy?! ❤️

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    1. There was a lot I loved about Sarong Party Girls, but the narrator's attitude was a real downer :-(

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  4. It seems like from your recent reviews, you've had a lot of mediocre reads lately :/ I hope you'll like your next read more. It sounds wonderfully authentic and I like the language choice too but I don't think I'll read this one because I'm not a fan of characters like that at all.

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    1. Yes, mostly 3-4 stars this month, though Dolores and Blue Tide Rising are both well worth reading!

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