Friday, February 27, 2015

A Certain Exposure by Jolene Tan

Wow. I've never been exposed to a novel quite like this in all my years of reading. It's a rather refreshing read to be perfectly honest. Even though it got rather sad nearing the end, I'm still impressed with this work.

Spoiler alert! Although I must say that whatever I write here will certainly not do justice to the book. You have to read it for yourself to appreciate its beauty. So consider yourself warned. 

This book, set largely in Singapore, begins with Brian receiving his twin brother's, Andrew's, body from the UK. The story of their lives slowly unfold and the tale of how the tragedy happened is gradually revealed bit by tantalising bit. 

Although I found the writing a tiny bit ... "stilted" (is the best word I can think of) in the beginning, the plot and the setting more than made up for it and I found myself getting more and more intrigued with each passing page. By the end of it, I was hooked. This makes for great reading. 

In any case, I've not read a book that wove in local elements so naturally and effortlessly before. The author manages to not only incorporate parts of Singapore history such as Operation Spectrum, without referring directly to it by name, but also blend in the familiar education scene that every Singaporean can relate to. It's great to finally see some great writing set in this little country of ours. In addition, complex family dynamics are portrayed accurately and in much detail without being overboard.

As I read A Certain Exposure, I mused that I had never read a work of fiction where the characters were gay, be they the protagonist or otherwise. This says a lot about me, or the place in which I've been brought up. But as I was typing out this review, Cyril Wong's The Last Lesson of Mrs DeSouza came to mind. That wasn't too bad, but it pales in comparison to this book. The author fleshes out two gay characters in the book and one can really feel for them. 

If this book is an accurate reflection of our society, it is really quite tragic that there seems to be a lot of repression in Singapore. People seem to be unable to express their true selves, seeking to conform to the expectations of others for their approval. The only counter cultural character, Hwee Ling, whom we are only acquainted with near the end of the book, is often mocked at and viewed with much derision. But I have hope that things are slowly changing in this place.

Nonetheless, despite my melancholic musings, this is a fantastic book and I'd recommend everyone to read it. Especially Singaporeans. This book is written for you. I'm sure you can get this book at all major bookstores, I found mine at the library, and you can also buy it directly from the publisher's webpage at

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