(Full disclosure: Jolene is a friend and I am a longtime fan of her wit, intelligence, and eloquence, and it is with this bias that I write this mini-review.)
A Certain Exposure by Jolene Tan traces the adolescences of twin brothers Andrew and Brian, culminating in the explosive events leading to Andrew’s tragic death. It is both a coming-of-age novel and a political commentary on what lies beneath the carefully managed surface of Singapore society.
Read this book for: its exquisite prose—each sentence is breathtakingly beautiful; its feminist sensibilities in its consideration of authority and power; its grace—it weaves in current events (i.e. Operation Spectrum, a covert security operation) effortlessly; and its character development—even the bit players, Brian’s first love Priya, Andrew’s first crush Kevin, the boys’ fundamentalist Christian cousin Mabel, are unforgettable.
A Certain Exposure alternates between Andrew and Brian’s youth in Singapore and Cambridge, UK, between the late 1980s and 1990s. And these leaps in location and time were, in several chapters, jarring and confusing; I found myself needing to create an event timeline in my head to keep all the scenes in place. Similarly, the novel is written in the third person omniscient, and the shifts in point of view were often abrupt.
But these are just my minor grievances with an otherwise stellar, thrilling, and important debut novel.
The book is available now at all major bookstores. Read this awesome interview with Jolene on her publisher’s website.