On Raine Koh. Pop Rock Love.

Whispering surfaces …
[On Raine Koh. Pop Rock Love. Singapore: Horasis, 2011]
by Jeremy Fernando.

One can read Raine Koh’s Pop Rock Love as a tale of teenage infatuation. Its protagonist Mimi, a Singaporean teenager, falls head over heels for Yuki, a Japanese tourist whom she meets whilst singing in the pub she owns. When he suddenly rushes back to Japan, the love-struck girl races after him. There is even complication—Sato—thrown in; and one reads on rather anxiously to discover if it works out for the couple.

Some will attempt to read the tale as an allegory of the music industry. Mimi is a rock singer who writes and sings her own tunes whilst Yuki is part of a successful boy-band. One can thus read the book as Koh’s lamentation of manufactured pop through Mimi’s perseverance, and eventual success, as an original artist amidst muzak. Foam-at-the-mouth Marxists might even read into Koh’s novel a critique of the capitalist system where music and people are commodified.

There will be others that read the novel as an autobiography, read the author into Mimi. After all, Raine Koh is a self-confessed K-pop junkie (an almost rabid fan of Super Junior); a prolific writer (she is a freelance writer for various magazines; Pop Rock Love is her third book); is known to chase her dreams even when that entails crossing borders.

But all of those readings would be all too easy, too convenient. More importantly, they would be missing the point.

They would be making meaning where there is none.

The radicality of Pop Rock Love is that there is no deeper meaning to it: it is pure surface. It is certainly about teenage infatuation, the music industry, creativity, commodification, and quite possibility Koh herself—but the novel cannot be reduced to any of these things. Neither it is merely a sum of all its themes, its tale(s): it is a tale that unfolds through its telling. It is not just about Mimi chasing Yuki, or her dreams, or even music: Pop Rock Love is reading chasing the possibility of reading. Koh sets the scene for us, provides the score—the text—our challenge is to listen, to attempt to read.

Which means that the reader also needs to imagine as (s)he reads. Not just in the sense of immersing oneself in the characters, in the plot, in the tale, but in the fact that one is reading a story. For, even as the tale is set before us, even as we can merely skim, race through the novel, and find out what happens to the characters, to do so would be to sacrifice the intricacies of the tones at play. At the heart of Pop Rock Love lies music—not just in the play between rock and pop, Mimi and Yuki, but more importantly in the relationship between the reader and the text. And it is in the impossibility of reducing the novel to a single reading—in the echoes of all the other possibilities whispering to us as we read—that we hear the novel’s song.

Hence, its title—indeed its character and plot—is a minor chord to itself; and that is the measure of its success.

Raine Koh’s Pop Rock Love can be purchased at either Selectbooks, or all major bookstores.

Jeremy is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He is the author of 5 books—most recently Writing Death.

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