Yannie dreams of murdering her bullying brother, who thinks nothing of slamming her head into a wall or throttling her if she annoys him:
She does sit-ups and push-ups in the morning, push-ups on her outshtreched palms, her fists. Imagines her small fist colliding with the soft flesh of his stomach. But compunction has already taken form: she knows there’ll never be an adequate excuse, an opportunity. And to be honest, she is relieved there won’t be one. It is always waiting, it will fall down at the last minute to thwart all her plans: this invisible screen between her dreams and her capacity to act on the external world. 24
This “invisible screen” is the reality of Yannie’s life. Highly-intelligent and longing for an education, as the daughter in a poor Singaporean (or is it Malaysian?) family she has to give way to her brother’s ambition. She has to work in the family store, she has to look after her parents as they dwindle towards death, while her brother goes to Oxford and then establishes a successful business in Australia, never sparing a thought for the family that sacrificed for him. Yannie boils with fury against him and she does long for revenge – but it seems she is constitutionally incapable of acting boldly in the world, or she has been so schooled by tradition and conventional morality that she can act boldly only in her dreams.
In fact you could say that the murder the title refers to is the murder of Yannie herself – the murder of her youth and her ambition, a murder that is unnoticed because it is so much the norm in her society.
Impressive as S.L. Lim’s intelligence and perception are, the book does have some problems structurally. The first section, dealing with Yannie’s youth, is by far the most successful, burning with Yannie’s dreams and subtly developing the self-defeating kindness and sense of duty that entrap her. In the second section Yannie goes to Australia and lives with her brother’s family for 18 months. There’s a slackening of the narrative drive and a sense of drift, as if Lim doesn’t quite know how to put together the elements of her theme. The short third section ends on a note of hope – You haven’t seen the last of me, oh, no. There is still some future left – but it felt to me like a pretty nebulous hope.
This is S.L. Lim’s second book and I’ll be reading the first, Real Differences. A writer to watch.