1. Catherine Lim’s approach. Unlike Simon Tay’s “Stand Alone”, which adopts a first-person narrative, Catherine Lim opts for a third-person perspective in this collection; while the former clearly offers greater personal insights and emotive exposition, the latter provides a more obvious harmonization between commentary or critique and story-telling. Dealing with the supposed realities of life, the stories in “Little Ironies: Stories Of Singapore” are more dramatic, unafraid of discussing societal taboos such as death, and challenging traditionally accepted Asian-Singaporean norms.
2. Aptly titled “Little Ironies”. Some stories are absolutely scathing in its description of ordinary Singaporeans who pursue a certain goal or ambition, yet in the process inadvertently – most of the time unknowingly – lose sight or grasp of the things that matter the most. Catherine Lim is particularly sarcastic in her mockery of individuals who are self-indulgent or overly-pragmatic, and sadly distance themselves from their beloved families and friends.
3. “The Teacher”. Even though this story is one of the shortest, it is easily my favourite narrative from the entire collection. In summary, it highlights the superficiality of an English teacher who pedantically focuses solely on his students’ language abilities – revolving around the grammar, structure, et cetera of their essays – without comprehending the content. His oversight and insistence blinds him to a student’s indirect distress signals of trouble in her family, and coldly dismisses her ambitions and honest plans for the future. It sends a simple message of how teachers can – and should – assume the roles of educators and mentors for their students and kids.
4. My favourite quote from “The Teacher”. “She was supposed to write a story with the title ‘The Stranger’ and all she did was write me a great deal of trash about her father … this composition is not only grossly ungrammatical but out of point … she actually jumped down from the eleventh floor? Such a shy, timid girl. If only she had told me of her problems. But she was always too shy and timid to speak up”.
5. Is there something wrong with the education system? Both “The Teacher” and “Adeline Ng Ai Choo” revolved around the degree of stress in the education system, and how different individuals have to juggle varying degrees of pressures and expectations from their families. More importantly, the rigidity of the system and circumstances stifles ours students, and does not provide sufficient avenues or platforms for students to speak up and express their emotions. Teachers and parents should not just focus on results and academic performance per se, and concern themselves more sincerely with the emotional development and growth of their students or children.
6. Individuals residing in the homes of their relatives. This seems like a special trend of Chinese individuals who live under the roofs of their relatives because of a variety of special reasons; sometimes because they are the second wife of the husband, or simply because they do not have money. In “The Jade Pendant” and “Eggs”, it is unfortunate that they are often treated as beggars and servants, while their kids suffer from mockery and limited privileges within the household.
7. “The Journey” and “Monster”. These stories reveal generational differences, and reflect the conundrum between tradition and modernity, constancy and change. As Singapore modernises and industrialises, it seems inevitable that certain elements of the past would have to give way; as the older individuals are seen as bastions of our history, memories and heritage. “The Journey” particularly stands out because Catherine Lim highlights the theme of appearance versus reality; that the modern comforts of luxury and better sanitary standards does not naturally bring about true happiness and prosperity. It is sometimes worthwhile to preserve our culture and our past, as antiquated they may seem.
8. The practicalities and realities of love and marriage. The characters of “Miss Pereira”, “The Marriage” and “Love” are obsessed with the pragmatism of love and marriage, hankering over whether their future partners would guarantee a more financially stable future, or provide considerable fortunes. Perhaps the demands of everyday lives and blind concern for futures have marred the sanctity of love.
9. Unstable family environments. Many of the characters in the multitude of stories (“The Father”, “The Teacher”) have had to live in family environments that are volatile and unstable; atmospheres which do not provide for family bliss and warmth. Many of the children involved feel isolated and alone, and do not have access to avenues to speak up or to confide to individuals they can trust in. Furthermore, many of the perpetrators are consumed by their own desires and vices that they have chosen to indulge in.
10. The prevalence of vices. Catherine Lim mocks many of her characters who choose to stake their fortunes and future on gambling; and their obsessions often leave them with little to rejoice about. Other vices such as drinking and lust lead readers to be scathing in our judgement, with the characters mourning over the destruction wrecked upon their lives.