The Impractical Uses Of Cake tells the story of 35-year old Chindian bachelor, Mr Sukhin Dhillion, who is a Literature teacher at a junior college. At school, he spends his time hiding from his nosy colleagues, while his weekends are dedicated to evading questions from his well-meaning parents about matrimony. Sukhin has no social life except for the company of his gay colleague, Dennis and a canteen auntie, Mrs Chan who is particularly fond of him. For the most part, Sukhin is contented plodding along uneventfully through life until he runs into his ex-girlfriend, Jinn one day. Despite her wealthy family background, Jinn now lives a life as a vagabond amongst cardboard and cockroaches. Sukhin feels sorry for her and offers her a slice of cake, and so rekindles the special relationship between the two.
One of the strengths of this novel is how well-fleshed out the male protagonist is. The reader sees things entirely from Sukhin’s perspective, including his innermost thoughts and words which he does not actually utter. This adds to the intimacy one feels with him, particularly his sense of frustration which comes across acutely in many instances. Despite the fact that Sukhin is undeniably a doormat and at times, a self-absorbed one, I find myself sympathising with him and rooting for his happiness. On the flip side, the novel ends on somewhat of an anti-climax as the mystery behind Jinn’s decision to leave home was left unexplained. All in all, the novel is well-written with flashes of humour and comes across as somewhat whimsical without being overly sentimental. Cake is a relatively easy and engaging read for most, and would be a good place to start for someone who is looking at sinking their teeth into a slice of local fiction.
by Dawn Tan