Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Singapore: Squircle Line Press, 2014
This is a story where nothing happens. Think William Gaddis minus the unattributed dialogue. Think Joyce's Ulysses when the citizen's biscuit tin gets hurled through the air. It's dramatic but the act doesn't have a purpose. It doesn't translate. After twenty years abroad, Jasmine Lee-Heschel has returned to Singapore to read literature at college. Jasmine is Jewish-Chinese. He insists on email correspondence, so she pays attention to what he's saying. Ma is a cursory presence, and Prof is an accidental father figure. Uncle Han checks in on Ah Gong, who's dying of cancer. A year to live is the doctor's prognosis. A caretaker at a plant nursery, Ah Gong is bent on building a garden for their HDB flat. To appease him, Jasmine seems tasked to take Ah gong to what small enclaves of nature still exist on the island. There's, of course, a boy. And there's the dead Nina who saw an angel. But everything stands still, like a tree in the middle of pasture. And everything, shifting in and out of perspective, attempts to dip into the eminently unreadable.
Of Robbe-Grillet, Barthes writes: "Description for Robbe-Grillet is always 'anthological' - a matter of presenting the object as if it were in itself a spectacle, permitting it to make demands on our attention without regard for its relation to the dialectic of the story". If Robbe-Grillet's novels are prolonged expositions on the objects around us with no implicit judgement, this story represents an inversion, revelling in a sort of violent catachresis. The metaphors are mixed, heaped in a huge mess. Everything seems at first to have meaning, and meaningful import. A branch, a flower, a kind of leaf, a tree. The epistolary provides the illusion of a continual epiphany, but for Jasmine , the explosive declarations or introspections lead to no real denouement, no real insight to life. At least not for her, when she starkly exposits that "nothing makes sense". Indeed, in the anticipation for death, there is little to no sense. No sense to be made of it at all. And by association, the language, its narrative and all the rest of it.