La Vie en rose

I am inclined to look at life through rose-colored glasses. But that does not mean that I look away from all the negative emotions and thoughts that I have. Work had taken up quite a lot of time recently and I had been slow in my reading for leisure. It is a cliché to say that life has its ups and downs. Life is a beach, life also can be tough, unpleasant and challenging. We all know that.

I recently came across a quote by Jean d’Ormesson.

Merci pour les roses, merci pour les épines Jean d’Ormesson

Thank you for the roses , thank you for the thorns.

The French writer has said such beautiful things about life. He also said this:

Ce qui éclaire l’existence, c’est l’espérance. – Jean d’Ormesson

What illuminates existence is hope.

I have just added another writer to my to-read list. I will have to read them in English. Not reading the writing in its original language may lose some of its prose but I believe the essence would have been captured by its translator. In the meantime I found these videos on YouTube. I only understand a very fraction of it, but it is a good way for me to remain acquainted with French language, which I am far from conversant and still soldier on. I find that when you try to learn another language, it is educational and it helps you to think differently.

Interviews with Jean d’Ormesson

There are always surprises and coincidences that could bring you sparks of joy no matter how mundane or ordinary your quotidian routine. One afternoon, I popped by a café to pick up a sandwich and ended up having a delightful conversation with a traveller from Vancouver. It was a busy road. Usually I could not get a park and that day I had the perfect spot just outside the café. From my brief conversation with the traveller , I had felt that he could meet up with someone I know and they did before the former left town. They were both happy to have met and had their conversation. That was kind of uplifting for a stressful work week.

I recently read Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. Excellent prose, interesting plot and elegant writing but it is not an uplifting ending that I had hoped for. Its book title is quite apt indeed.

The year is 1957, and the story is set in the suburbs of south east London. Jean Swinney who is approaching forty years of age is a journalist and feature writer for a local paper. She is trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there appears no likelihood of escape. She lives with her widowed mother who has lost her confidence in getting out of the house. ‘Because they depended on Jean’s salary to live, Mr Swinney having left neither pension nor savings, she was ble to accommodate Jean’s absence for the length of a working day, no more.’ Jean’s younger sister, Dorrie is married to a coffee farmer and lives in Kenya, which might as well have been Venus as far as Jean is concerned. Her sister has ‘ a cook, a houseboy, a gardener and a nightwatchman to protect them from intruders, and a gun under the bed to protect them from the nightwatchman.’ She writes to the family about her super life and keeps her mother happy.

When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, she is sent to investigate if Gretchen is a fraud or a miracle. But the more she investigates, the more her life becomes strangely intertwined with that of the Tilburys. Gretchen is a tailor and sews her a dress. In accompanying them to run scientific and medical tests for proof , she gradually becomes a friend to her subjects and also her family. She also becomes close to Gretchen’s quirky and clever daughter Margaret who talks about hearing voices and regarding them as visits from angels. The investigation turns her quiet existence inside out as she is given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and -possibility- happiness. When Jean gets to the bottom of the story, she is confronted with a moral dilemma whether to publish the story as it involves people whom she has grown close to.

Clare Chambers is a talented writer. Small Pleasures is a compelling read. As explained by the author in her afterword, the story is aspired by two real events in that year. ‘The first being a 1955 newspaper competition to find a virgin mother, which found one woman who passed all the medical tests to support a virgin birth except for the final skin graft. The second is the Lewisham train crash of 1957 in which 90 people died‘ – Review by Megan Robinson.

 ‘The fiction was longlisted for Women’s Prize for fiction in 2021.

In The Fraud Squad, a debut novel by Kyla Zhao, Samantha Song dreams about writing for a high society magazine and when there is a chance that she might just be able to realize her dream, she’d do anything to get there.

After graduating, Samantha finds herself working at a drab PR firm. She has to help her mother to make ends meet and pay back some of the debts her dad has left behind. They live in Serangoon and she shops at Cotton On. Her dream feels like a distant dream.

For a while, the closest thing to her ideal life is living vicariously through her colleague, Anya Chen, who is wealthy and mixes with the rich crowd.Through Anya, she meets Timothy Kingston who is from one of the elite families in Singapore. Timothy is more interested in art, films and writing. He wants to do something creative. After graduating from Durham University, his family who owns KMG expects him to join the family owned hedge fund company. His father would say, All my friends’ sons do finance. Generations of Kingston men have done finance. What will people think if my only son turns his back on the family business? Now he has been given a year to prove himself. With his mother’s help, his dad has allowed him to take a year off to prove that he could make a splash for himself. It is now nine months into his sabbatical and he has yet to prove his point.

Samantha comes up with a plan and to her surprise, both Anya and Timothy agree to help her make a name for herself on the socialite scene in Singapore. She dresses the part by borrowing Anya’s designer clothes and Timothy’s invites to every high society event. She wants the opportunity to meet Missy, the editor in chief of S magazine a luxurious magazine. Samantha learns everything about the socialites and lifestyles from reading magazines. Anya shows her the ropes and give her all the clothes and accessories and Timothy becomes her chance of infiltrating the high-society world to which she desperately wants to belong. The only caveat is there is a mysterious gossip columnist on the prowl for dirt. As Seen by Argus column has turned S from just another luxury magazine into one that even old uncles in kopi tiams would discuss. She is naïve to assume that reading magazines and having a six-month editorial internship would teach her everything she needed to know about high society. She and Raina Chandra, her best friend from school make a pact to meet for brunch every Sunday at a kopitiam, just a stone’s throw from their secondary school. Raina, an up-and-coming young female lawyer thinks that Samantha should not be pretending to be someone she is not. In secondary school, ‘Rai leapt to Samantha’s defence against a bully’s teasing about her shoddy backpack. The string of profanities Raina reeled off had gotten her sent to the discipline master’s office, but it also sparked the two girls’ friendship- one that had lasted ever since’. As Smantha moves closer to achieving her dreams, can their friendship withstand what Samantha has set out doing in pursuing her dreams? In pursuing her goals, has she compromised who she really is?

The Fraud Squad is a rom-com. While the fiction contains traces of Crazy Rich Asians, it also shows gender bias where different standards are placed on men and women. Its author, Kyla Zhao had her first women’s magazine byline at the age of sixteen, writing about weddings for Happer’s bazaar Singapore before she even had her first kiss. She also writes for Singapore editions of Vogue and Tatler. She now works in Silicon Valley after graduating from Stanford University in 2021.

The Fraud Squad is a delightful read and you might love to read it in one sitting.

CHIJMES, Singapore


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