Glenville Ashby, GUEST COLUMNIST
Author: Katherine Bing
Publisher: Hansib Publishing, 2009
Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby
Oftentimes, we are told to judge a book by its merits, not its packaging. It's an axiom applicable across the board. In the case of Singleholic, such counsel never proved so true. At the outset, this literary teaser can easily be misconstrued as a whimsical chronicle of a woman's search for Mr Right. And while a cursory read may bear this out, there is an undeniable message of philosophical depth.
Katherine Bing has penned an urbane, stylish, overtly contemporary work that takes a bohemian and paradoxically flippant look at dating, love and marriage.
Sarah, the protagonist is a 30-year-old professional, professedly at the cusp of irrelevance without a beau. She is obsessive, self-doubting - a bundle of nerves when encountering a prospective suitor. Her biological clock is ticking, ticking. Her ruminations are hilarious: "YESSIREE ... I am IN DEMAND now. Guys are ringing, begging to see me. I am doing OK. Chibu, Sam, and Charlie .... Guys really want me. I have too many men and too little time."
Her prognostications are desperate and irrational. "By this time next year," she mulls, "I will have an engagement ring on my finger." She goes on to envision "the most fabulous wedding of the century" after a chance meeting with an attractive gentleman.
Bing impresses as a writer, flirting with a range of colour and tone. She imbues vigour into a subject that's potentially banal with a short shelf life - at least on paper. Her work is vivid, entertaining. The strength of her undertaking is its broad appeal. For women, Sarah becomes a reflection - a mirror that deciphers self -worth and identity. On human behaviour, there is so much to be gleaned. Strengths and weakness are laid bare. This is a literary joyride, no doubt, but its clinical worth is unquestionable. Bing offers a panoramic view of romantic indulgence within a contemporary framework. No writer has done it with such raw honesty and candour. It's Sarah's stage, but all the characters come alive. Georgina, the perfect doyenne; Manuele, the sexual libertine; and Sarah's friend, Jacqui, who is the poster child for the modern woman, or, is she? A professional at the top of her game, she offers a crash course on dating. "Men are children, really children," she asserts as she counsels Sarah on the commandments of dating. "Men need to feel that they have worked to get you, or they will never adore you ... don't always pick up the phone. Let them think that you are out having a ball. And always make sure you end conversations first ... ."
We later learn that Jacqui's history with men, including her father, has all but coloured her view of the opposite sex. Her defence mechanism is a biproduct of social expectations ... the emergence of a new system of mores. But it also stems from painful experiences.
A traditional woman
Interestingly, Sarah, a teacher and well heeled, proudly wears the badge of the traditional woman, seeking that knight in shining armour, the white picket fence, and children to be whole. She recoils at the young generation's flippant, nonchalant view of marriage. "We," referring to today's women, "are like 17-year-olds in terms of our career ambition, but we still hang on to the romantic notion of love and marriage from our mother's generation. Is it possible to have both?" she asks herself. It's an interesting observation that invites sociological debate.
Bing's work is not without some culturally sensitive moments. It is tinged with stereotypes about race and ethnicity. In a multicultural society such as Brixton, and biracial - British father and Jamaican mother - Sarah is liberal in her selection, but she prefers black men, if only they were more culturally palatable. "So many of them wear loads of gold ... YUCK!"
And later, when Sarah dates Chibu, who is of Nigerian heritage, she muses, "He sits up straight as he drives. What a relief. Ever notice how many black guys drive almost lying down?"
Throughout, there is a definitive message that takes, oh, such a long time for Sarah to grasp. The key to happiness is always embedded within. Sometimes lessons learned are painful. And Sarah has sure had a fair of anxious, doleful episodes. In the end, she realises that what she so aggressively sought was never really far away.
Singleholic bubbles with the best of pop culture - speed and Internet dating, multicultural trysts, and, of course, "female empowerment". It's an intriguing mix that packs a hypnotic punch.
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