Ben and Toni live in the island state of Singapore where truth is fiction and fiction is truth. Ben is a copywriter, and Toni is a bank officer active with an opposition party that intends to contest the upcoming general elections. But the leaders of The Party that dominates the state are attempting to cling onto power and enact Plan Charlie which calls for the cancellation of the elections. In doing so, they are guided by an influential figure who sits on the board of the global conglomerate Golem & Traum; she in turn is under the influence of its mysterious leader called The Gewgaw Man who is under the control of an occult being. What follows is The Rising: an island-wide invasion by smombies—smartphone zombies—which is the impetus for a takeover of the state by The Party as all hell breaks loose.
This uneven novel straddles comedy, horror, and suspense in a way that neatly encapsulates the disorienting experience of living under an authoritarian regime, but the genres aren’t fully integrated. The gore will jar readers who are primarily invested in Ben and Toni’s sweet, faltering relationship, while horror fans will be less than enthralled by a lengthy scene of an undead Dr. Caligari discussing economic theory. More action-oriented readers will be frustrated by the frequent philosophical ruminations on Singaporean history; circular, tangential arguments; an unnecessary digression about Ben’s Jewish heritage and Caligari’s link to the Third Reich; and complaints about smartphones.
Perera has a skilled hand with imagery—a smoker’s ceiling is stained “as if spiders had run into a vat of nicotine and wriggled in a dance of death,” and there are loving descriptions of juicy oranges and tapered fingers—but sometimes he defaults to the deeply obvious: “He read the sign that welcomed all visitors to Singapore. ‘Welcome to Singapore’, it said, in large black letters.” His moments of true eloquence may keep readers going through the detours that gradually subsume the central plot.
Takeaway: Readers familiar with Singaporean daily life and politics will get the most from this gore-splashed yet philosophical satire.
Great for fans of Tony Burgess’s People Live Still in Cashtown Corners, Gretchen McNeil’s #Murdertrending.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B-