Setting in Catherine Lim's The Bondmaid

One of the few external settings that plays an important role is the pond, which the narrator clearly connects to Han, her moods, thoughts, and story:

How peaceful it all is, she thought, and she drank in deeply the peace of the tall, silent trees around her, the sleepy chirping insects hidden in the bushes, a wild pigeon or two circling the bit of blue sky not blocked out by the green canopy, the calm shimmer on the surface of the pond beside her, broken only by the soft plop of a wind-dropped seed.

Her spirits, lately weighed down by the troubles of poor Spitface and Wind-in-the-Head, took wing and soared in the wide expanses of this wonderful secret world which she claimed as her own, having discovered it years ago.

Places recommended themselves to her if they were connected with him. This special enclave of dear pond and leafy surroundings had not actually borne his presence; it had been too far for them, even at their boldest in those adventurous childhood years, to venture into, without incurring adult wrath. Some time after he had gone away, she discovered it on her own and loved it, a little haven of repose in the tumult ofJ her life in that great house. [173]

Places, it is clear, have importance for Han, if they have connection with her beloved Wu, and in fact this particular place frames the story with mentions of him. Here, once, was the location of the pond next to which the shrines of two goddesses were erected, fell into disrepair, and were forgotten. At last, even the pond itself dried up and vanished at last. The setting of the entire novel being Singapore, a land of reclamations and development, this scene of childhood play, romantic reverie, erotic encounters, tragic death, deifications, and a madman's endurance vanishes, at last, beneath steel and concrete.

This passage, we should note, appears almost exactly half way through the book. What, then, are Lim's notions of the value of such "centered" stories in modern Singapore? Is this a beautiful place, now vanished, that reminds us of lost romance and tragedy, destroyed (probably literally) by development? Or is this place so associated with an oppressive past in which there were Chinese bondmaids that its vanishing is, on balance, a good thing?


Lim, Catherine. The Bondmaid. [1995] London: Oriel, 1997.

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Catherine Lim