Goh Poh Seng: If We Dream Too Long
Goh Poh Seng’s best-known novel tells the story of a group of friends in Singapore just after leaving school. The main character is Kwang Meng who is in a boring clerk job. He takes the afternoon off, pretending to be sick, to go swimming. When he gets home his father is, as usual, complaining. In short, he is not happy with his life. He does have one outlet – his regular visit to a local bar, where he gets to know Lucy, a prostitute who works there and with whom he has an affair. He also has remained friendly with a couple of friends from school. Hock Lai is an insurance salesman, while Nadarajah, known as Portia for the role he played in the school production of Merchant of Venice, comes from well-to-do Indian family and may (or may not) be going off to England to study. His two uncles are both influences in different ways – one a successful business man (who suggests that Kwang Meng should go and work in Sabah, where there are lots of possibilities) and the other who is an inveterate gambler and takes Kwang Meng to the races one day (after borrowing money from him), at which Kwang Meng does win but realises that gambling is not a good idea. Kwang Meng is pulled in different directions by these various influences till he meets a more positive influence, namely his next door neighbours, Boon Teik and his wife Mei-I, both teachers, both readers, who introduce him to good literature as well as to Anne Tan. However, at least initially, he sees Anne merely as a friend, still having an infatuation for Lucy. His friends both move on with their lives but Kwang Meng has to grow up too, both as regards his career and his personal life. It is a fairly straightforward tale of a young man trying to grow up and struggling with it, struggling with boredom, struggling with what life holds for him, struggling with his family and, of course, struggling with his love life.
First published 1972 by Island Press, Singapore