Chick Lit Review # 5: The First Principle by Rose Tan

I had absolutely no clue what the ‘first principle’ was when I started reading this Modern Girl novel, and of course I expected it to be spelled out in the story: let the future take care of itself. Let nature take its course. Sounds terribly new age and indifferent. And somehow The First Principle kept that mindset from start to finish.

I have to admit that this was my first time to read a Rose Tan novel, and her disclaimer on the first page—that it’s her first time to write anything like it, and that she hoped her readers would ‘get’ it—was enough to keep my interest. The writing was superbly witty, and it was clear how the writer had more than sufficient control of the language. There were more than enough nuances and humor that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at many of the parts. But then it was also obvious how Ms. Tan was trying to sound more ‘pop’ (to fit the chick lit genre) and less serious, kind of like how someone used to wearing heels was forced to slip into flip-flops. Still, that’s just me, and I’m sure readers would think I’m reading too much into things.

First off, the main character Bam-Bam was written as the stereotypical chick lit girl—concerned with clothes and boyfriends—with above-average looks. I thought she was made too normal, though; the one time she showed anything out of the ordinary was when she clearly went out of her already cuckoo mind by approaching a total stranger—male—in a restaurant in Boracay and went on and on about the sordid details of her life while eating sisig, drinking beer from the bottle, and even plucking her tinga without pretense. The whole thing was hilarious, but eventually this whimsical side petered out in the rest of the story when she became Bella-esque (of Meyer’s Twilight) in her indecision on which guy to pick. But during this noted sequence, Bam-Bam’s character became as engaging as Confession of a Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood, whose craziness was at once charming and exasperating. The thing is, like many chick lit novels, Bam-Bam appeared lackluster beside her best friend Ton-Ton—a girl so memorable from her looks (“madalas mapagkamalang bading”) to her job (owns an ukay-ukay shop) to her entertaining exchanges with her girl Friday (with a name like Darna, how can you expect anything else). Bam-Bam and Ton-Ton actually fought over a boy, but in the end how the author chose to resolve their conflict yet leave readers hanging as to which boy Bam-Bam chose emphasized the importance of friendship over all else.

I honestly found Bam-Bam shallow and ordinary, while I thought Ton-Ton was shallow but interesting and believable. Of course, the writing was able to overshadow all these points, since Ms. Tan must have had a ball imagining each exchange, especially between the best friends. Bam-Bam’s mom was also another character worth reading, since she was hardly perfect and represented many practical and empowered women in real life.

I’m looking forward to reading another novel by Rose Tan, and maybe this time I will choose one that is more along the lines of what she is famous for. That said, I would still recommend The First Principle to chick lit and romance readers, if only for the refreshing wit and humor borne out of actual experience and a playful mind.


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