Sharlene Teo's debut novel is set in Singapore and centers on the intense friendship of two girls. One, Szu, lives in the shadow of her mother, Amisa, who starred in cult horror films. The other, Circe, struggles to fit in at the new school. But: Szu and Circe have each other, until a great falling out.
The book's title comes from the Malay folklore monster Pontianak, a female vampiric ghost. "Pontianaks are usually depicted as pale-skinned women with long black hair, red eyes, and white dress smeared in blood, but they are said to be able to take on a beautiful humanly appearance since they prey on men and helpless people. They can also be beasts due to their bloodthirsty and carnivorous nature." Amisa — Szu's mother — stars in a trio of horror films as the Pontiak monster. (Hence, Ponti.)
Teo's story alternates between Amisa's youth and filming of the horror films in the 1970s and 1980s, Szu in school (and her friendship with Circe) in 2003, and Circe in 2020, working as a social media consultant. It took some time for me to get into the novel — but it's captivatingly poetic. As Kirkus Reviews points out, "All three women have objectively compelling stories: Amisa, escaping her small village only to wind up with new thwarted dreams; Szu, navigating adolescence through a haze of grief; and Circe, now divorced, still unable to shake the grip of her former friendship. But the novel never quite amounts to more than the sum of its parts, the quieter intricacies of the relationships overwhelmed by the volume of the premise." I agree, kind of — but I think those "quieter intricacies" did shine through. (And I must say: I loved the ending. It was so satisfying!!)
What's unique about Ponti is the friendship at the heart of the novel. As Teo explained, “I’ve never read a book depicting two teenage girls who are equally losers, unknowing and unattractive." But that's Szu and Circe in Ponti.
Get it here: https://amzn.to/2CzZOnI