Reviewer: Adey Tan
Despite the unassuming title, Colin Cheong’s Polite Fiction is anything but. In the guise of numerous interconnected short stories that come together to make a disjointed semblance of a narrative, it gives us insight into the human condition, and the relationships we make and break with each other – our ‘rude reality’ hidden beneath the facades we choose to present to the world.
Polite Fiction is neither easy to read nor understand, what with the character viewpoints switching every chapter and the non-linear narrative, but extremely rewarding to work through. The basic storyline as told in the summary is interesting enough – the plot revolves around Yuki Moh, reluctant protagonist, watched like a hawk by an overprotective father as she moves in unsavoury circles. Her actions are motivated by a desire for freedom, revenge, rebellion, most of them running contradictory to what we would perceive as ‘right’. But nobody in this book does anything right, not really, even as they believe they do. An accurate sketch of the world we live in, then, if rather cold and cynical.
Story aside, what really draws one in would be the exploration of the various characters’ perceptions and experiences. One gets to know – really know – our medley of flawed, uncomfortably realistic characters, all of whom are relatable in some way or another, and none who are in the least sympathetic. We are not them, nor do we aspire to be, but we get to see the world through their eyes, and perhaps learn to understand.
Polite Fiction is a book one reads from a distance – one does not delve into the plot, or get caught up in the world within the pages. We watch from above, instead, like the omniscient narrator, a mere observer, and see lives play out beneath us. Make no mistake. This is no fairytale, and there is no happy ending, or even a good ending, but the story is left open, just as it is in reality. Something for us to think about, long after we finish reading the final sentence.
Available from all good bookstores.