All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Sarong Party Girls 
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Allen & Unwin
2019, 306p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A brilliant and utterly engaging novel—Emma set in modern Asia—about a young woman’s rise in the glitzy, moneyed city of Singapore, where old traditions clash with heady modern materialism.

On the edge of twenty-seven, Jazzy hatches a plan for her and her best girlfriends: Sher, Imo, and Fann. Before the year is out, these Sarong Party Girls will all have spectacular weddings to rich ang moh—Western expat—husbands, with Chanel babies (the cutest status symbols of all) quickly to follow. Razor-sharp, spunky, and vulgarly brand-obsessed, Jazzy is a determined woman who doesn’t lose.

As she fervently pursues her quest to find a white husband, this bombastic yet tenderly vulnerable gold-digger reveals the contentious gender politics and class tensions thrumming beneath the shiny exterior of Singapore’s glamorous nightclubs and busy streets, its grubby wet markets and seedy hawker centers. Moving through her colorful, stratified world, she realizes she cannot ignore the troubling incongruity of new money and old-world attitudes which threaten to crush her dreams. Desperate to move up in Asia’s financial and international capital, will Jazzy and her friends succeed?

Vividly told in Singlish—colorful Singaporean English with its distinctive cadence and slang—Sarong Party Girls brilliantly captures the unique voice of this young, striving woman caught between worlds. With remarkable vibrancy and empathy, Cheryl Tan brings not only Jazzy, but her city of Singapore, to dazzling, dizzying life.

I haven’t read Crazy Rich Asians. It’s not that I don’t want to or anything, I just haven’t yet picked up a copy and found the time. I’ve looked at the movie a couple times now and thought I’d really like to watch that but then I don’t because I always try to read the book first before I watch an adaptation. This was pitched as a kind of “If you love Crazy Rich Asians then you’ll love this” type thing but yikes, I hope the same is not true the other way around. Because I did not love this. In fact it was quite a struggle to get through it.

Jazzy (short for the made up Jazeline moniker that she gave herself) has an ultimate goal to marry a wealthy ang moh – white man. She realises that she and her friends are literally no closer to this goal than they were years ago so she must devise a plan. It’s a non-stop whirlwind of nights out at happening bars and drinking, drinking, drinking. Ultimately the goal is to meet and get the husband and then the holy grail, a Chanel baby (half Singaporean, half white). Jazzy and her two friends are devoted to this (they lost third friend Sher to a marriage to a Chinese-Singaporeon – not goals.

This just felt like 300p of reading pretty much the same chapter over and over again. I don’t really drink much and I find that I have a real lack of interest in books that focus a lot on drinking. I find it really tedious to read about. This seems to be a real culture of binge drinking. Jazzy has a seemingly great job (although more on that later) but it seems that weekend nights are for lots and lots of heavy drinking in fancy clubs. It’s all VIP, with bottles and bottles of expensive spirits available. Jazzy doesn’t pay for any of it – she seems to have several ‘friends’ (using that term loosely) who are wealthy married males that keep them permanently in alcohol. It’s all shots, shots, shots, bottoms up etc and I felt like vomiting just reading this. And then it’s a myriad of bad decisions and every man in this book with the possible exception of two (both of whom Jazzy considers beneath her and not worthy of her time), is a complete predatory asshole. There’s lots of touching women without consent, grinding up against them, kissing them, women being forced into doing a whole bunch of things which they go along with to be a good sport lah. Almost all the men are married but they spend nights out cheating on their wives (and sometimes on their girlfriends too). There seems to be a deeply entitled culture and there’s no doubt that men do and say whatever they want with almost zero consequence. Women in this story seem to have no real power, despite several claims of otherwise. For example, Jazzy’s job is good on paper but her boss is a lecherous old man who fondles women in the workplace and constantly turns over his personal assistants every couple of years when they get to the grand old age of 24. Jazzy sits with her panties on show because he likes a bit of a look and what harm is it? Keeps the boss happy, keeps her in the job a little longer. There’s a lot of gross stuff happening here, in both supposedly professional workplaces and also at the clubs. Even the one nice guy Jazzy thinks she’s met turns out to be disappointingly complicit in terrible behaviour and this book depicts the most stereotypically obnoxious rich American I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. There’s also rather a lot of casual racism in this book as well – Jazzy looks down on various other ethnicities, particularly Chinese. Every time I got to a stage where I felt kind of sorry for Jazzy she then does, says or thinks something so horrifically judgemental that she seemed just as horrible as everyone else, just a different sort of horrible.

I’ve never been to Singapore so if this is accurate, that’s really quite depressing. Scores of young women desperately trying to snare that ultimate rich white guy husband goal and for what? So he can go out, buy drinks for other young girls just like them and sleep with them on the side? By the time I got to the end of the book, I suddenly wished it’d been more about Sher instead. Because she seemed like the only person with any goddamn sense.

I enjoyed the Singlish (although I’ve since seen comments that say that’s not accurate either). But little else unfortunately. If this is satire, it’s not satirical enough.

Jazzy’s epiphany comes right at the end of the book so it’s either way too late to be meaningful or this is the first in a series. For me, there was just so little depth in this – and if Emma weren’t mentioned in the publisher blurb, I would definitely not have even considered this to be a loosely based, modern day take. To be honest, I still don’t feel that it is.


Book #151 of 2019

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