With its ripe Singlish patois and brazen narrator, the comic novel Sarong Party Girls has carved its mark on the local bestseller list.
As of Tuesday, Cheryl Tan Lu-Lien’s debut novel has spent 28 weeks on the Straits Times bestseller list for adult fiction, the longest for a Singaporean author since 2000.
It dethrones China Rich Girlfriend by Singapore-born Kevin Kwan, which spent 26 weeks on the list in 2015. The book was the sequel to Kwan's 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians, which is being adapted into a Hollywood film.
Tan, a New York-based Singaporean journalist, named her novel after the derogatory term for a local girl who dates only white men.
The book, which was published by HarperCollins last July and also sells in the United States and Canada, features bold, brassy heartlander Jazzy Lim, who prowls bars and nightclubs with her friends, desperate to land a wealthy Caucasian before she passes her sell-by date.
Tan, 42, says being on the Straits Times bestseller list for one week was already “the true icing on the cake”, let alone 28 weeks and counting.
Her book first made the list last September and has climbed as high as second place.It has been described as "chick lit", which makes Tan bristle.
"It has a frothy cover, yes, but it's a rather dark and unflinching yet funny book with some serious messages that I hope end up making the reader think."
Mr Marcus Frois, senior sales manager of the book's local distributor MPH, believes that its heavy use of Singlish is one of its strong selling points. "Readers can identify with the various characters in the book. It seems to sell well in the heartland, shops in town and airport shops."
Others in the local book trade welcomed the news.
Mr Leslie Lim, product manager of distributor Pansing, notes that Sarong Party Girls has held its own for weeks against big international names such as Dan Brown, Paula Hawkins and Jodi Picoult.
"I think Cheryl's success points to a growing market for Singaporean writing of various genres, not just chick lit," he says. "(Singapore books) have broken a barrier and are now perceived as being as good as imported fiction."
I think Cheryl’s success points to a growing market for Singaporean writing of various genres, not just chick lit. (Singapore books) have broken a barrier and are now perceived as being as good as imported fiction.
MR LESLIE LIM, product manager of local distributor Pansing
The Straits Times weekly bestseller list is compiled from figures provided by four major bookstores, Books Kinokuniya, Times, MPH and Popular. It lists the top 10 titles in three categories, Fiction, NonFiction and Children's Books.
The list dates back to 2000, when data was first collated from six bookstores, the aforementioned four as well as Borders and W.H. Smith. Prior to that, the bestseller lists of individual bookstores were published.
It is rare for a Singaporean title to make it to the top 10 in the adult fiction list, let alone keep its place.
In recent years, Ovidia Yu's mystery novel Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge stayed on the list for 16 weeks last year, while Crazy Rich Asians lasted 11 weeks in 2013.
Landmark bestsellers before 2000 include Philip Jeyaretnam's 1987 short story collection First Loves, which stayed on the Times bestseller list for more than a year, and Adrian Tan's The Teenage Textbook (1988) and its sequel The Teenage Workbook (1989), which reached No. 1 and No. 2 on the Times list simultaneously.
The volumes of Russell Lee's True Singapore Ghost Stories, a mainstay on local bestseller lists since they hit shelves in 1989, are classified under the Children's category.
• With additional reporting by Cara Wong
Correction note: In our earlier story, we said the debut novel has spent 27 weeks on the Straits Times bestseller list for adult fiction. It should be 28 weeks.