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A Certain Exposure

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  121 ratings  ·  22 reviews
Selected by The Business Times as one of the Best Books of 2014

Satirical and sympathetic, political and personal, A Certain Exposure traces the adolescences of twin brothers Andrew and Brian, culminating in the explosive events leading to Andrew's tragic death. A classic coming-of-age tale doubled across two vividly individual brothers, who struggle to navigate a complex
Paperback, First, 224 pages
Published April 2014 by Epigram Books
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Peter Tan I thought this was Ming Wei, who admired Andrew: 'Ming Wei would save his loyalty for his standards' (p 161). Presumably he hooks up with Andrew,…moreI thought this was Ming Wei, who admired Andrew: 'Ming Wei would save his loyalty for his standards' (p 161). Presumably he hooks up with Andrew, finds the photo, gets jealous and vindictive, and circulates the photo.(less)

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 ·  121 ratings  ·  22 reviews

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Vidhya Nair
Maybe it's because I'm tired of people exposing the hypocrisy of Singapore. Because by now, something in society should have changed. Since it hasn't, I hope young people read this book & stop placing too much impt in joining Raffles ( yes, I said it, the book is too scared to even use that word), becoming a Govt scholar, at the very least . Also the characters are all one dimensionally Chinese. How dull is that? Only Gaurav is fleshed out ( like how this name is NOT hidden & hints ...more
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
(Full disclosure: Jolene is a friend and I am a longtime fan of her wit, intelligence, and eloquence, and it is with this bias that I write this mini-review.)

A Certain Exposure by Jolene Tan traces the adolescences of twin brothers Andrew and Brian, culminating in the explosive events leading to Andrew’s tragic death. It is both a coming-of-age novel and a political commentary on what lies beneath the carefully managed surface of Singapore society.

Read this book for: its exquisite prose—each
Lestari Hairul
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Parts of it were difficult to get through, because of things that were all too familiar and as old memories tend to throb searing pain when they surface, I took longer than expected to finish this. Beautifully written, with the exception of the colloquial Singaporean speech here and there that I found rather jarring when you return to the main text. The epilogue was devastating but the scene before that, the one with the 3 asshats, that was just excellently-executed. I went for the book launch ...more
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A scathing indictment on elitism in Singapore. A brilliant read that will cause some readers to squirm uncomfortably in their seats, or on their pedestals. The year’s still young, but I suspect this will be THE local title of 2014, or at least the most talked about.
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
After a few stop-starts, I finally read this in an afternoon. Beautifully written, with several precise jabs at all that is wrong with the Singaporean society. The scene with the three goons as depicted in their working lives made me laugh so hard.

Also, I can't shake off the need to compare this book with Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowlands. (TWINS! DIVERGENT PATHS! DEAD BROTHER!)

ALSO, freaky, but I know a pair of twins who have the exact same names as the twins in this book. :O
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
A literary delight. Good vocabulary I guess and creative style of writing. Some parts were confusing though but after re-reading the book I kind of understood it. Still, I enjoyed this Singapore classic.
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Not in the sense that the issues raised are startling or shocking, but it personalizes all the stuff that we so often only discuss intellectually. (Why we should all read more fiction!)
ashley c
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-lit, singlit
A Certain Exposure discusses, with wit and prose, the nuances of Singaporean life and our unique experiences with school, examinations, racism, bullying, suicide, and homophobia. Jolene paints a dreary picture on what is it like to fall out of the subscribed way of life. Andrew and Brian are twins - both were born in a Chinese middle-class family. Brian is ushered along an average life with average grades, a safe group of friends, the occasional Chinese girlfriend; Andrew is brilliant, except ...more
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Short but sharp in its account of Singaporean society, with its elitism, claims to meritocracy, and moral conservativeness (especially for the time in which the novel was set). The book was uncomfortable at places precisely because you could easily identify the various prejudices it speaks to. The epilogue was succinct and poignant - knowing that Andrew’s hope for/towards life was obliterated by insensitivity and unkindness. I hope this book can guide us to interrogate the easy stereotypes in ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for anyone who has an interest in social equality and how privilege and prejudice impact families, communities and the choices we make in life. I absolutely loved the pace and subtle but powerful messages communicated through the various events in the story. The characters are relatable and they confront issues that still plague society today (both in Singapore and abroad). I also appreciated the many local references and the unique dialogue that really brings the Singaporean ...more
Apollos Michio
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is Jolene Tan’s first novel, but her writing feels matured and competent, generously providing the reader peeks into the conservative Asian society that is Singapore, and how this conservatism affects her denizens. Featuring the coming of age of a pair of twins in 1980s Singapore, until the death of one of them, this is a story that can resonate well with those who feel marginalised in society. A thought-provoking local read that feels like a necessary addition to the canon of Singaporean ...more
Leonard Chia
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the observant prose which reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri.

I however felt that there was room for more character development, and felt that Andrew's fragility was not sufficiently explored.

Still a good debut, and much to look forward to from Jolene.
Peter Tan
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Compelling prose, and generally a page turner. I did think the characterisation was exaggerated though and that the author did sound a bit preachy.
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-malayan
An incisive commentary on the callousness of not speaking up, the novel manages to toe the very fine line between recognisable characters and the broader social commentary she sneaks in precisely because of the wide-ranging cast of characters, which span a diverse section of the Singapore population both in terms of gender, sexual preferences, age, education level, and for lack of a better word - likeability. Credit must go to the author for sketching each character with such vivid strokes that ...more
Toh Kane
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As startlingly brutal as it is beautifully written, Jolene launches an unequivocal critique against the prosaic clockworks of the Singaporean dream. A book written with unflinching and measured resolve, it sketches the perniciousness of academic elitism in the Singaporean society, and the cost of surrendering our imagination to a traditionalist stranglehold of success for cheap, materialistic reassurances. Through the tragedy of the twin brothers, we are led-painfully- to observe the fulfilment ...more
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very, very good...

There are, unfortunately, perhaps inevitable lapses in character explorations in some parts, particularly as the novel's pace picks up and rushes towards the denouement.

The effort to draw links between societal discrimination and high-end political brutalizing (the 1987 arrests) as part of a more general culture of intolerance and apathy were interesting if speculative. Perhaps unnecessary in the end though, given the ability of the rest of the content to stand on its own, and
Kirat Kaur
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A necessary read. Lyrical, fluid and tightly controlled writing of the sort rarely seen among Singapore literature, it was a quick read, even for a slow reader like me. The novel is a tad didactic, but most political novels are, and it's been too long since we had such an unabashedly political novel about this country and the awful ways in which we treat people. Despite the subject matter, the novel manages to steer away from a fatalistic depressing ethos, and even lightly suggests possibilities ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So much about the characters and the way they talk and react to each other was recognisable to me. Issues of classism, feminism, chauvinism, racism and elitism were woven together beautifully to reflect how all these things intersect and affect people's lives in very real ways, every day.

The examination of the culture surrounding Singaporean scholars –those who are later then entrusted with the task of running the country as civil servants –is important and much overdue. So many of the unspoken
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Local writer Jolene Tan's attempt to deal with the issues of elitism in the school, homosexuality, family obligations etc is admirable and makes this book a pretty compelling read. I am, however, not at ease with the style of writing, at the juxtaposition of dialogues rendered in Singlish against convoluted sentences with bombastic vocabulary in the rest of the prose. I prefer writing that is simpler, that can appeal to the average reader for I believe Jolene has a message that needs to be ...more
Apr 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
Characters looking for a plot to make sense of their presence.

Sprawling and not in a good way.

Okay. Gave it a second read. (16 June 2014) Still didn't like it. It's just seeded with so many issues (pertaining to Singapore) that the main characters feel half-baked.

And honestly, Mabel is the most irritating character.
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I had to put it down several times because it's very uncomfortable to read about situations and archetypes that echo some of the worst things that life in Singapore has to offer, but that's precisely why it's worth reading.
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Clement Yong
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Dec 04, 2014
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Jolene Tan is a writer and activist who lives in Singapore. She has also lived in the UK, the US and Germany. A Certain Exposure is her first novel.
“For her and Nurul merely to share a meal cooked in their own kitchen was a triumph; to wake up together each morning a luxury.” 2 likes
“Brian organised for the body to be flown back.” 0 likes
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