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3.39  ·  Rating details ·  1,994 ratings  ·  280 reviews
2003, Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into an intense friendship and offers Szu a means of escape from her mother's alarming ...more
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published April 19th 2018 by Picador
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Average rating 3.39  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,994 ratings  ·  280 reviews

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Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
What am I missing here? So many critics and goodreads readers have given this book glowing reviews, but I can’t seem to get into it.

I was drawn to this book because it’s written by a Singaporean Chinese (like me) and it’s set in Singapore, where I have grown up and continue to live in. I enjoyed the many references to the MRT train system, the dialects, the secondary school routine and more, that are so familiar to me and so refreshing to read against the books set in the West I usually read. S
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ponti is the title of a series of cult horror movies from the late 1970s about a ghost, portrayed by the preternaturally beautiful Amisa. In 2003, Amisa is 45, ill and living with her 16 year old daughter Szu and the medium Yunxi. Amisa aged out of the movie business in her late 20s, but she is still beautiful, regal and intimidating, especially to her daughter, with whom she has a fraught relationship. Szu and her only friend Circe attend a convent school. Circe is fascinated by Amisa. "[Amisa] ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, favourites
I loved this book so, so, much. Sharlene Teo is my new favourite author and I urge everyone in the world ever to read this, her debut novel. Her writing is amazing, she is so clever and funny. She is just extremely sharp-witted and all her characters are like wonderful caricatures with such colourful personalities. There are so many quotes I want to share from this book, so I'm going to! And I don't even care if it's too many because I just couldn't decide which one I liked the best!
There must b
* 3.5 *

I fell in love with the writing in this book immediately. It is whip smart, beautifully observational and funny. Sharlene Tao does a marvellous job of steeping you in a sultry Singapore circa 2003, full of the sights, sounds and smells of this metropolis. It is at first a headlong plunge into teenage angst, and while Ponti is not a YA novel it is arguably at it's best when told from the perspective of it's adolescent main characters.

The narrative cycles through three points-of-view; Sz
Eric Anderson
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s so bizarre when reading one novel after another to discover coincidental and surprising connections between them. Right after I finished reading Madeline Miller’s “Circe” I started reading Sharlene Teo’s debut novel “Ponti” since it’s one I’ve been anticipating and I wanted to finish it before going to the latest Lush Book Club hosted by Anna James. I soon realized one of the main characters is called Circe as well. While it’s a really evocative name from Greek mythology, it’s certainly not ...more
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sea
I adored Ponti, and will happily read anything Sharlene Teo ever writes in the future. Loved her narrative style, her sentences and choice of descriptors. If you stick glorious food descriptions in there, I’m in, so maybe I was an easy sell! I also adored slipping into the familiar sultry atmosphere of Singapore, the nostalgia of being a teenager where everything felt larger than it was, where school seemed like your whole life.

Ponti takes its name from a scary vampire-like monster which scared
Michael Livingston
Feb 07, 2020 rated it liked it
I loved the writing in this: sharp and sometimes funny. I especially enjoyed the voice of Szu Min - after the first chapter I was sure this was going to be a favourite. Things meandered a bit though - the chapters set in Szu Min's mother's youth weren't quite as engaging and the broader arc of the story didn't really connect. Still - this was a fun read - I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for Teo's next book.
The writing really is gorgeous here, and it totally pulled me in at the start. Over time that did begin to wane, as the story itself didn't really go anywhere. This is very much a character driven story of not fitting in, disappointment, and living a life that fails to be spectacular. There are a few hints at coincidence and maybe something "other" going on.

Basically this feels like a very realistic depiction of life as it is, and for that reason it might appeal to fans of people watching, or th
Alice Slater
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ponti is a book about disappointment: the unfairness of life as it unspools in terrible and unexpected directions. Ponti examines memory and perspective, with a backdrop of horror movies, high school, mythology and the psychic industry. I simply adored it.
Caleb Liu
Apr 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
The hype for this book was truly enormous (winner of the Deborah Rogers Prize for most promising book in progress, triggering a bidding war based on the manuscript alone), I can only imagine the kind of pressure the author was under when finishing the book. So I am tempering my response on finishing it, though tempering it merely diminishes the fact that I was somewhat disappointed.

Putting my finger on precisely why is hard. It's certainly a very readable novel, and Sharlene Teo is someone who h
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-fiction
I waited 1 year for this after reading about this in The Guardian. Then, wanting to read it was just along the lines of, oh yeah, Singaporean author wins some award based on an unfinished manuscript, hey I’m Singaporean too, let’s support local!

Reading Ponti is a journey of navigating a strange adversarial mother-daughter relationship (“please be healthy so that I can hate you without guilt.”), surface placid waters of girlhood and friendship belying undercurrents of desperate acceptance and mi
Jaclyn Crupi
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Damn, this was a good multi-voice. It’s very much about the things we do in youth that haunt us into adulthood. Told from the perspectives of Szu, her mother Amisa and Szu’s friend Circe, PONTI is interested in how we damage and hurt one another and how our environment shapes us. I loved Teo’s writing and think this book very much announces her as a voice to watch.
Jason Lundberg
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels-novellas
I need to preface this by saying that I’m a fan of Sharlene’s writing. I’ve even published her in LONTAR and Best New Singaporean Short Stories. And I went into this novel really wanting to like it. Which is why reading it was frustrating.

I felt throughout held at arm’s length by the author. Even though I am told about our three protagonists, I never got invited into their experiences, which left me cold as a reader. Even the first-person chapters are surprisingly light on interiority.

In fact, t
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly, despite ticking a lot of my boxes, it took me a long time to connect to this novel, but when I finally did I REALLY did.

Upon hearing about Ponti I was HYPED. It sounds silly but everything about the book; the title, the cover, the blurb, just excited me so much that I was blind with adrenaline for a couple of chapters. High schools, Singapore, intense friendships, horror movies, psychic mediums, was all so potentially delicious. Soon though the adrenaline died down a
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Szu is a pretty typical teen who feels she has never fit in, living in the shadow of her former actress mom and grieving the sudden loss of her dad who walked out when she was only eight.  
She finds a kindred spirit in her wealthy and sometimes cruel school mate Circe and they develop a friendship in 2003 when Szu's mom becomes ill and passes away.

In 2020, Circe is a social media consultant recovering from a divorce.  She's shocked to see that her consulting team will be handling the promotion o
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
I went into this book thinking it would be in some way horror-related, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. It was simply a story of three women - two friends, Szu and Circe, and Szu's mother Amisa who starred in a trilogy of horror movies called Ponti! in the late 70s/80s. That's where the horror part stops. However, I did still enjoy this book for what it was, despite my initial disappointment.

The novel isn't heavy on plot, but I wouldn't say it's massively heavy on characterisation either,
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
‘ponti’ starts off promisingly enough, with its central focus on three singaporean women with intertwining lives: amisa’s story is set in 1977, as she moves to singapore from malaysia & becomes the ninteen year old star of horror flick ‘ponti!’. in 2013, szu is amisa’s 16 year old lonely teenage daughter grappling with secondary school life, O levels & the way her mother’s anger & bitterness infects her, when the privileged circe befriends her out of the blue. in 2020, 33 year old circe reflects ...more
Lizzie Huxley-Jones
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book perfectly captures the heartaches and disappointments of being a young woman. Told through three different points of view, Ponti tells the tale of Szu Min, her beautiful cruel cult film star mother Amisa and catty best friend Circe throughout different points in their lives. It is a delicately, yet expertly, woven novel of grief, friendship and identity. I absolutely loved it and look forward greedily to Teo’s next offering. This Singaporean coming of age novel is a must read, and will ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, sgbooks
A triangle revolving round a cult actress, her daughter and her daughter’s best friend.A tour de force of a debut. A voice I will definitely follow.
Jee Koh
Jun 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My expectations might have been set too high because of all the hype (Simon and Schuster! Glowing blurb from Ian McEwan!) but I was seriously disappointed by this debut novel by Singaporean writer Sharlene Teo. What is real and deeply felt (synonyms in my aesthetics) is the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters, and between close (girl)friends, but the novel does not succeed in translating what is deeply felt into a persuasive plot or convincing characters. The plot feels secondha ...more
Oct 16, 2018 added it
I couldn't help picking up this book especially since I knew Teo utilised the myth of the Pontianak. This figure terrorised the imagination of so many Malay children like me & we grow up to, in a sense, revere her. As women, we may even see her as the representation of brutalised female pain. Anyway basically I picked it up because I love the Pontianak (the myth of it & its significance, I don't want her to visit me, please), so central to the Malay community & other indigenous Southeast Asian c ...more
Out of the Bex
PONTI is a loose narrative alternating between three timelines and characters, two a mother and daughter, the third a childhood friend. This book is primed as a mother-daughter story and as the story of a life-changing friendship. I have to disagree with both of those descriptions.

What we’re really dealing with here is an exploratory character study that seems to come from a writer with little experience in writing full length pieces and might be more advanced in shorter styles. The author’s pro
Feb 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m stumped by how to review this debut. Sharlene Teo is a master author and I have no doubt that she has a brilliant literary career ahead. Her complex debut is honest, beautiful, prescient, and deep. It’s filled with longing and startling observations about what it is to grow up in a modern world. I stopped often to capture her words and never lost my way despite frequent shifts in perspective, decades and, in some cases, mood.

It’s coming-of-age kicked up a notch and I loved the Singapore sett
Dec 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Finally got round to finishing this after a few months of hiatus (school I blame you). Honestly felt this wasn't as provocative or alluring as it was made up to be. I wasn't entirely convinced by Amisa's plot, which felt a bit cliché. One thing I liked was how Teo understood female relationships/friendships and how she turned a simple concept into something ~complex~ and nebulous.
Lingying Chong
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read it in one sitting. It’s very exciting reading a novel written by a person who grew up in roughly the same world. The book is energetic and endearing like its teenaged protagonists, overflowing with details that really draw the reader into the mysterious, sweaty moods of Singapore. It’s an enchanting portrayal of youthful emotion that stirs deep inside every one of our souls.

It may well be the great Singaporean novel that we’ve been missing all these years. It is little raw, and could benef
Lolly K Dandeneau
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
via my blog:
'The distance between where she was and the glossy point where she wanted to be stretched and stretched.'

In Ponti, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa's otherworldly beauty and small diminished fame. ” I marvel for a split second at the unfairness of genetics, mysterious spirlas of DNA coiling and cohering into life sentences: You will be plain. You will be beautiful. You will repulse mosquitoes. You will have an iron gut. You will be si
Stephanie Burton
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

Ponti was a strange book for me. I enjoyed it as I was actually reading it, but struggled to remember exactly what was going on when I set the book aside. Individual scenes are vividly written, but I didn't manage to truly immerse myself into the story which was a shame. I think part of the problem is that the women who most fascinated me, Amisa and Aunt Yunxi, are the ones about whom we find out the least. Amisa, as an actress, portrayed a m
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it
a slice of life, time jumping story set in Singapore, focusing on the lives and deepest feeling of 3 women.

this book had such an incredibly rich palate of colors, smells, and feelings. it painted a vivid picture of Singapore; i feel like i actually learned something about the culture. i felt the smoke and sweatiness, saw the pastels, oranges, pinks, greens and browns. i felt the ache of the complicated relationship between Szu and her mother.

this is a very character-driven book, and may drive p
Oof, my oily, raw, beating heart. This is so fucking vivid but subtle, the emotional acuity so on point. 2018, how on earth am I supposed to pick one favorite book? All the weird female/nb writers outchea killing it, and Sharlene Teo is among those that lead the pack.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: swf-2018
Ponti is a fresh, absorbing tale of three Singaporean women at different stages of their lives, centred around a little-known horror film series. Teo's crisp writing brings the three narrative voice to life in a stunning portrayal of female relationships, grief and guilt.

The plot follows Szu's teenage years, her mother Amisa's youth, and Szu's friend Circe's later life in a not too distant future. All three women are thus connected, allowing Teo to cleverly weave between viewpoints and eras, ult
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Sharlene Teo (b. 1987) is a Singaporean writer based in the UK. She is the winner of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award for Ponti, her first novel, released by Picador and Simon & Schuster in 2018. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Esquire (Singapore), Magma Poetry, The Penny Dreadful, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, New Writing Net and Best New Singaporean Short Stori ...more

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“She became invincibly beautiful: the clarity of her cheeks, her little ankles, and the lucid poetry others projected onto her blank expression.” 1 likes
“Amisa was becoming beautiful, even at ten, but she had something cold about her -- everybody could feel it. This coldness was incongruous in the syrupy heat...She had the consciousness and poise of a cute child aware of her own cuteness, which unsettled both adults and peers. There is the same unforgettable alchemy to being dislikeable as to being universally loved.” 0 likes
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