As an avid reader of works written by James Joyce, I cannot help but see the similarities between Dubliners (1914) and Singapore Sucks!. So I took the opportunity to ask Singa Crew about whether James Joyce has influenced him in any way, since James Joyce also happens to be one of his favourite writers.
Singa Crew: Well, to be honest, I did not set out to emulate James Joyce and attempt to produce a Dubliners for Singapore. Joyce’s shoes are pretty big for a noob writer like myself to fill!
But you are right. There are parallels between the two. Perhaps James Joyce had a greater influence on me than I thought, and on a subconscious level, I was trying to pay homage to a literary giant. Or perhaps it was just an eerie coincidence that modern Singapore has so much in common with the seedy and depressing Dublin – set between the late 1890s and early 1900s – Joyce described in Dubliners.
Epiphany. Paralysis. Escape.
These are recurring themes in Dubliners that one can find in the stories of Singapore Sucks! as well. There are moments in Dubliners when the Joycean characters would achieve a state of clarity – epiphany – and thus gain important insights about the greater issues in their lives. And most, if not all, of the stories, essays or poems in Singapore Sucks! revolve around Epiphany. The narrators are either reaching their own conclusions about what life in Singapore is really about or their sad plight helps readers reach their own conclusions.
My early readings of Dubliners tended to put me in a melancholy state of mind. These aren’t happy stories, I thought. And indeed, whether through some character flaws or conspiracy of external influences, some of the characters tended to be frozen in a psychological arrest, thus preventing them from achieving positive resolutions in the stories. In Dubliners, Eveline, a tragic protagonist in one of the short stories, was paralysed by fear and thus chose a life of captivity (with her father) over a freer existence with her lover. Similarly, Jason, the terminally alcoholic narrator of one of our short stories, was paralysed by fear and chose safety and stagnation in the fog of intoxication over the dangerous clarity that sobriety provided.
The Dublin James Joyce described wasn’t a happy place, with “gaunt spectral mansions” and suburbs that were “mean, modern and pretentious”. The Joycean characters did not thrive in that Dublin and they yearned to escape its confines. Likewise, the Singapore seen through the eyes of the narrators in Singapore Sucks! is just as depressing, with ominous high-rise buildings that are “left lifeless as crypts” and the light reflecting from the glass panels blinds instead of illuminates. And just like in Dubliners, the desire to escape is expressed in Singapore Sucks!
In the end, I think it doesn’t really matter whether if trying to produce another Dubliners was my original intention or not. Singapore Sucks! happened, and it has its place in the world (1°17′ North, 103°51′ East).
Update: The book is now available at Kinokuniya (Orchard). Have you gotten your copy yet?
(To be continued… )
Part 1 of the interview can be read here.
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