99%

The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted. Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs; about men labeled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.

The Casual Vacancy, J.K.Rowling.

Not a trance of her signature Potter-ism. I’m still deciding if I like the book, but it definitely gets more readable as I go along. The thing about the British is that they are always so entrenched in their obsession with “class” (the socio-political concept); they can’t stop talking about it. Probably because they are so painfully aware of it. Its like the mid-20th century never left (and is that really a bad thing?).

Coincidentally, the other book that I’m reading simultaneously (yes, I do that), Zadie Smith’s NW, deals with the same issues of English council estates – public housing for the not-so-well-off (the working class, and sometimes the underclass).

I think what is fascinating about these books is how they are able to make something mundane appears interesting and worthy of be written about (e.g. the characters think and do things that are utterly believable; you get an idea that there are real people in the real world just like them).

Why do Singaporean fiction writers not write about life in the heartlands in a similar fashion? [Perhaps they do, just that I’ve not read these stories – I’m guilty of not reading much local fiction.] I really look forward to reading a story that do not portray Singaporean lives in caricature, from a myopic perspective that can’t help but produce a cliched view. I suspect that our general inability to produce such literature is due to a lingering self-esteem problem: we just don’t truly believe that our regular lives are interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention on its own, without unnecessary embellishments.

I think that Singaporean dialogues are fantastic. We are not boring – we say the funniest, cleverest things that are entirely our own. But capturing that, in written words, seems to be the most elusive, frustrating and impossible task. Does our language, our inimitable accent, only work in sound waves and not on print?

[I’ve seen this “Singaporean-ness” neatly captured in other places though. 12 Storeys by Eric Khoo seems to me one of the greatest snapshots ever made of Singapore in the ’90s. And then there are these hilarious t-shirts from local label Superwhite.]

One day, we shall need to be brave enough to document our unique way of being on the printed page – and to do it honestly, proudly. Because writing things down is so important.

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