1 Ponti by Sharlene Teo
In hazy 2003 Singapore, 16-year-old Szu is an outcast in a convent school as her unbearably beautiful and distant mother Amisa, once briefly famous for starring in a cult horror film series about a pontianak, wastes away.
This dreamy, disquieting debut looks at female friendship and the link between womanhood and monstrosity.
Languid and mesmerising, the book makes teenage girlhood in Singapore into something rich and strange, yet at the same time achingly familiar.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/opPL
2 Circe by Madeline Miller
This brilliant retelling of Greek myth focuses on Circe, the first witch in Western literature, most famous for turning men into pigs.
A minor character exiled to an island in Homer’s epic Odyssey, she unfolds here from colourless daughter to full-blown “nasty woman”.
This spellbinding tale treats women’s work with the scale of epic heroism.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/opP2
3 Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
In this elegant, shadowy novel, 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister are left behind by their parents in post-World War II London, in the care of a group of mysterious maybe-criminals. Years later, an adult Nathaniel tries to piece together his mother’s covert career as a war spy and reconcile himself with her sins.
Ondaatje, whose 1992 novel The English Patient was picked by the public last year as the top Man Booker Prize winner of the last 50 years, sheds light with breathtaking intricacy on the shifting geography of memory.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/oNnN
4 An Ocean Of Minutes by Thea Lim
This remarkable debut, which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a prestigious Canadian literary award, delves into immigration and the ravages of time, but without losing sight of the love story at its bittersweet heart.
A young woman in Texas volunteers to time-travel 12 years into the future to save her boyfriend from a viral pandemic, but cannot find him when she arrives. Lim creates a frighteningly plausible dystopia – because somewhere in the real world, it is happening to someone else.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/ogFV
5 My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
In this caustic, blackly comic novel, a privileged young woman retreats into a drug-induced haze in her Manhattan apartment, numbing her senses with television, anti-depressants and blackout-inducing pills even as the world around her changes, culminating in the Sept 11 attacks.
Whether you recoil from Moshfegh’s fascination with the scatological and profane or find it oddly cathartic, the brilliance of her prose – lithe, searing, crackling with wit – can hardly be denied.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/omrR
6 Common Life by Ho Chee Lick and Anne Lee Tzu Pheng
Lee, one of Singapore’s most esteemed poets, offers an easy entry point to verse in this keenly sensitive collection, which looks at the everyday – junk furniture, void decks, hawker centres – and invests it with grace.
The poems, inspired by Ho’s crayon drawings, are deceptively simple; in fact, they question the point of poetry and how it should be shared.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/ompv
7 Milkman by Anna Burns
Burns’ novel, which won last year’s Man Booker Prize, is, in a way, like the Disney movie Beauty And The Beast – both have a heroine who likes to read while walking and is therefore a social outcast – but instead of a fairy-tale ending, creepy men just follow the protagonist around endlessly.
The experimental novel depicts an unnamed 18-year-old’s experiences during the Irish Troubles, as she is sexually harassed by a senior paramilitary figure. It is a challenging yet compelling narrative that resonates in the #MeToo era.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/oeB6
8 The Long Take by Robin Robertson
A dazzling, desolate neo-noir odyssey, this was the first novel in verse to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Its narrator Walker, a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, wanders the mean streets of America’s changing, failing cities.
Through Robertson’s lines, the post-war city comes alive: breathing, beautiful, bitterly ruined.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/oeBB
9 Lion City by Ng Yi-Sheng
The many worlds of Ng’s speculative short stories delight and discomfit in equal measure, from a Changi Airport terminal for gods to an alternate history in which boy genius Hang Nadim founds a world-dominating empire.
If you enjoyed the branching paths of Black Mirror’s movie Bandersnatch on Netflix, check out Ng’s story Garden, which turns Singapore’s timeline – real and fictional – into a choose-your-own-adventure game.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/oXAF
10 The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Journalist Orlean turns an investigation of the devastating 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire into an exceptional love letter to libraries, as she delves into the colourful history of the library, tracks down the family of the alleged arsonist, and even tries setting a book on fire herself.
Her contemplative, lyrical bent makes the prose a pleasure to read. Even in the digital age, she lovingly demonstrates the importance of libraries as a communal space and the enduring power of the book.
• Check out a full review at str.sg/o2DH
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