Reviews for The Centre Cannot Hold
YodaChick chapter 19 . 2/15
I'm so sad you are leaving this as it should be, but look forward to what happens after the war
kslchen chapter 19 . 2/13
From a narrative point of view, it makes absolute sense to end the story on this note. It is, plainly, a better story for not cleaving to convention and adding a "five years later"-chapter that brings everyone together again and gives the reader the easy satisfaction of a happy ending. Many writers would have gone there, I imagine, and a few of them might even have been able to pull it off, but epilogues like that, which move the story from total despair to a sudden happy ending, always tend to feel unearned and a bit like cheating. You're correct to say that we didn't need the horribleness of internment, partly because we *know* it happened and because words hardly ever do experiences like that justice, but we also don't want an easy fix. Therefore, I applaud you for hitting just the right spot to bring this story to an end.

Because we don't know what Carl, Li and Iris are going through and because (even with the advantage of historical hindsight) we don't know what will happen to these characters, we readers are in a somewhat similar place to Una here. She is left behind, waiting and wondering and worrying, and in some ways, so are the readers, because we worry about these characters as well and we're non the wiser about their fate. It's a very effective way to make the readers share into Una's feelings and to leave us looking at the uncertain future in a not dissimilar way to how she does.

In some ways, both Una and Puck take on partly symbolic roles here, a process both of them have been going through for quite a while. Una is the stalwart, the lighthouse, the one focal point that remains in the hope that everyone else will find their way back to her. She's the remnant of the past that stays in place to hopefully secure a future for them all. Puck, meanwhile, symbolises the changes in Una herself, simply by how far the relationship of those two have come. In the beginning, Carl was Puck's human and then Iris was, too, but never Una. They tolerated each other based on a shared fondness for Carl, but as they experienced loss alongside each other, they grew to stick together. For Una, this acceptance of Puck shows that, as the world fell to chaos around her, she focused on what is important and what is dear and in that, learned to see Puck not as a chaos spirit (even though the definitely is one and proud of it) but as a creature with a great capacity to love and be loved. When everything else falls apart, love and togetherness and family become even more important and that, I think, is symbolised by Una and Puck gearing up to face the future together.

Looking back at this story, I remain, as always, impressed by your style of writing, but what also continues to amaze me is how character-focused you kept it. When writing about the big tragedies of history, it can be tempting to try and somehow cover the whole scope of the thing, but that attempt so quickly turns academic and impersonal. What you did so powerfully here is keep the focus firmly on this one family and how they navigated the big historical tragedy happening around them. In doing so, you portrayed one of the very many 'small' human tragedies that are so often forgotten and overlooked with time, to be replaced by sheer numbers and descriptions.

Before reading this story, my knowledge about the Fall of Singapore was entirely academic, but your story opened up the human aspect for me and showed me how the individual people tried to exist and survive and prevail within this storm. That, to me, made your story both incredibly touching and very educational and I thank you for opening up this viewpoint to me and allowing me to experience this moment in time alongside your characters as representatives for all the people who lived through what we only know about from history books. I know that an incredible amount of thought and research went into this story and I also know the care you took to write an account that, thought fictional, is as accurate to real people's experiences as possible. If they could read your story, I think they'd agree that you did them justice.
Tinalouise88 chapter 19 . 2/11
Its a bittersweet ending for such a story, the worse for some is yet to come, but for Una. Her worst is now, alone, no animals, but also alive and able to stay in the home she grew to love. She wasn't forced out of her home like Li and Iris.
She wasn't taken like Carl to somewhere she has no idea where.

Una is just there with all the memories of the past to keep her company or plague her depending on the day. But she is strong, stronger then she will ever probably admitt.

I have really grown to love this character through this story, which you know already by Clean, I have grown to love all of them of course, and I do look forward to the other half of their story when you finish it one day.
Parnokianlipstic chapter 19 . 2/11
Contra Mundum indeed..
Well once again you have unwittingly perhaps chosen few of my favorite Yeats pieces in this, so apropos. The image of empty Trinity House - once then were three, now only one, and so on.. Una&Puck wandering around in it like a museum, so efficent and heartrendering image. Also the image of Singapore - Syonan-to, and all the debris of evacuees, the cans. Puck, well he is an utter delight, and of course Lis last words to Una would resonate, cause Puck is very much only familymember left.

This choise to do this in two or more parts, and gloss over certain things, exellent!
The rebulding perioid of post -45 was hard in different way, but I have total faith in your rendering whatever you have planned, or outlined.

Thank you very much, for countless hours of enjoyment, and also an excuse to poke about in Singaporean Occupation things, once a historian, always one. :)

Very Best Wishes!
OriginalMcFishie chapter 19 . 2/10
what a place to pause! you are right, we don't need endless chapters of the horror of internment, though in some ways that makes ot worse as that leaves it to my imagination and I imagine much horror. I find comfort in the facr thst there is another installment, amd that there was some food in the camps. Having watched Tenko (thanks for the shout out) I feel I've got at least part of Unas story and have already placed her among the wineb there, bits if her fit nicely with several characters. The strength she learned as a motherless child will stand her in good stead. I fear more for Puck . I feared she was going to have to murder him here as an act of kindness. Will she teach him to bow, making him a favourite of the Japanese? Will he have to record himself and become an ally sneaking messages and food to Una? or will his fate be predictably sad. I look forward to the hope of the post war years. You've done a beautiful job capturing the horror of invasion
candelabra chapter 19 . 2/10
Yikes. This has been painfully informative. Thank you for writing it.
oz diva chapter 19 . 2/10
Well you are right to be proud of this magnificent story which I know you put a lot of time and research into. I don't know if anyone has ever written quite so evocatively of such a time. A little snippet really between colonialism and war and what it must have been like to live in that era when so much of the world was on the brink. Rather than a crescendo it was more of a slow build so that by the end the beginning seems like another world altogether.

I feel for Una believing herself to be the Judas because what choice did she have? None of this was of her design, she was just protecting her family the best way she knew how and of course now they're all gone - to parts unknown buffeted by powers well beyond their control. Things fell apart indeed, for the Merediths and for Singapore in general.

Leaving Una there with her darling Puck was masterful because we can imagine what happens next, but this wasn't that story. Still you have promised me more and I shall wait semi-impatiently for the next instalment of the Meredith's story.
kslchen chapter 18 . 2/6
There is something so very tragic about their belief in Safety. It's understandable, I guess, because they know the situation in Singapore and by comparison, "somewhere else" looks like it can't be as bad or at least can't be worse. They call it an adventure for Iris's sake, but it's really a journey into the unknown, in the fervent hope that the unknown will prove to be a safer place than the known. It might yet be, or it might turn our much worse, but given the way their lives have turned, I suppose at this point, they're willing to give it anything a try. There's no real choice, of course, because for Li and Iris to stay would be even more dangerous, but still, their hope for Safety is difficult to behold.

I was surprised to see that no-one has yet taken away or looted their jewellery, but it still being there does make for a lovely scene between Li and Una. Those two grew to be incredibly close, to the point that Li feels closer to Una than Carl does. It is a very beautiful goodbye, with them continuing to look out for another and making promises that are heartfelt, yet that they really have no control over. It's not within their control when or even if they see each other again, so the promises to do so are really more promises that they will do everything in their power to try. I don't see Li having much of a chance to hold on to her ruby pendant, but Una might just manage to keep Iris's locket safe and give it to her, sometime down the road.

With Li and Iris leaving for good, we reach a point in the story that I thought we'd reached a couple of chapters earlier. When Carl didn't come home, I thought Una was alone for good - and now she really is. In some ways, she's even more alone than before because while there's still Puck, there's no more Papatee and no more Akela. One by one, they all left to leave her in the house of Trinity Street. At worst, they're certain not to come back, at best, there's hope she might one day see them again. She knows though that if she does, it will be a long time hence and they will all be changed by what they're set to experience in the meantime.

For all that her family plays such an important role, this is still very much Una's story and as everyone leaves and she stays behind with Puck, I know we will stay with her, too. In a way, she's the constant, the one they can return to, if it proves to be at all possible. She's staying for Carl but, without saying so, I believe she's also staying so that Iris and Li - or one of them - can have a focal point and a person to come back to should the need arise. Despite the promises, I think they're well aware that it's not at all certain whether they will see each other again, as evidenced by their reminiscing and the way it all feels very much like a goodbye. They're hoping still and showing incredibly bravery and tenacity, but their fate has been out of their hands for a long time.
Tinalouise88 chapter 18 . 2/5
I reiterate from what I said yesterday It's a happy chapter! Sort of anyway? there is no talk of bombs or animals dying, starvation. It's just a family who is recollecting the years past. Li protecting her with the rings, as already stated it's safer to be married, a widow, a man somehow in your life. All the photos and remembrance that is happening between them. Who knows when they will see eachother again and they make the best of their goodbye. The decision about the tea bowls the last remaining china that hold immense sentimental value in them.

Poor little Iris thinks that Una is coming with them, but Una has to stay for Carl, and I have a feeling that China will not be all the kind to Li and Iris being refugees. But I hope for the best for them.

One chapter left and I can only wonder what is in store and how this will end this chapter of these characters' lives. You painted a wonderful story full of realism, happiness in times of war, heartbreak and war.
McFishie chapter 18 . 2/5
This chapter drips with the love Li and Una feel for each other. Its a goodbye between two lovers, not in the sexual sense of the word, but in the connection and bond that forms between two people. They have to part, that much is certain, though little else is. Long conversations about the whys and wherefores are not necessary, it has to be done, all that's left is the emotion to be packed up, the caring to be given while it can. Li is planning an impossible journey and yet she stops to consider how a simple ring may save Una from some of the worst fates, she's offering her protection in any way she can. Una's giving of a ring in exchange is her own unspoken vow to keep her safe in ther prayers, and a promise that they'll make it through and be united again. This chapter reminded me strongly of partings from my husband before we married. We lived at opposite ends of the world. We'd visit, reconnect, form new connections, and then the 48 hours before we parted again, knowing we'd have to get on with everyday life without each other (despite being able to still contact each other and not going off to the uncertainity of a war refugee), would be charged with an electricity, like we'd been taken out of time and place and allowed just this time togehter. Its that thats been captured here wonderfully and beautifully. I don't want to think about what's to come. It will be what it will be. All we have is their here and now. Tomorrow may be a hundred different things but for now, they have this goodbye. Beautifully done.
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oz diva chapter 18 . 2/4
Maybe I'm slow to the party but it feels as though all the layers that protect Una are being stripped away one by one like an onion. Carl, Nenni, Akela, Papatee and now Iris and Li. That hurts the most almost because she did it knowingly. Sent them into hopeful safety but what they will face is unimaginable. I had my heart in my mouth when Li went to fetch the water for I couldn't envisage a world where Iris could survive without either of them. That line that the bus driver was having fun was terrible in its simplicity because I think you're right he was playing with their fear in some agonisingly awful way; like a cat will play with its prey.

The scene where they divvied up the jewellery, making empty promises was completely heartbreaking. Li and Una are as close as any sisters could be but their differences are now forcing their separation. I hope that one day in the far off future they are all reunited and can enjoy a cup of jasmine tea in those beautiful red bowls, no two the same.

But for now Una will return to Puck and an otherwise empty Trinity House and hug him to her waiting for whatever befalls her next.
Parnokianlipstic chapter 18 . 2/4
Staggering.
Claustrophobic, and sadly fierce.
Of course, Una remains, because someone must, if Carl.. The scene with Li’s ring and all the wordless and clear understanding is downright incredibly staggering, as are the shared memories of Li and Una from Before brought mournful lightness.
And, of course, it had to be cattle carts. Great description of the dirty and hopeless moving masses, of rumors and a cruel reality, the most concrete horrors of violence and occupation. Now Li and Iris have hopefully left for Safety and maybe to China, though at that time China was, well.

I predict Carl will either be imprisoned somewhere, hopefully not in a concentration camp, or somewhere else reluctantly assisting the Japanese, or perhaps hiding somewhere with underground resistance?
Nicoke chapter 1 . 1/28
I apologize for being a lazy reviewer. It’s not fair to those I read regularly for free. This story is very well written and very dark. I know now not to read this one at work due to tears. You create beauty in darkness.
Tinalouise88 chapter 17 . 1/28
I wondered about the meat, and it makes sense and it is horrible to think about all of them starving and having so little that it has altered their bodies to an extent.
They still talk about food, eat food in the chapters yes it's always tapioca but at least it was something. TO think it was always worse than what Una led us to believe. What stood out the most is that even Puck it thinner. The war has affected him as well more then we have seen.

Bombing, never stops and those poor women and the animals. I keep thinking, wanting Akela to show up all dirty, but tail wagging to see her owner. I am sure it won't, knowing this story as I do, but I do wish.

The china's burial and the pieces Una kept for her own memories make up for the china that has been lost in this story so far. The fact that Puck is hurt over china as well, makes it all so much more personal.

Una has lost so much in life and it doesn't seem fair at all at this point. Of course, life is never fair, but all I want for once is for Una to have a good day. For all of them to have a good day, for Carl to come home, for them to all wake-up and realize it was all just a horrible dream.
oz diva chapter 17 . 1/28
Your writing as always is so visceral. The sensation of the monkey patting and the crinkle of the paper surrounding the meat and let's not even talk about the changing sound of the bomb as it drops closer and closer. Then the blood slick streets making it difficult to walk. Ugh. Thankfully not something I've ever encountered.

What's really scary afterwards is that the bombs are still falling and there's no guarantee that another one won't kill her. Only you Alinya could write the feeling of safety like that, like a silky scarf dropped over her, even if its short-lived. Thankfully it's only the chickens and the Gladstone Blue Ribbon. Now we know that's only a bit of china but in reality its so much more. Una's apologies to her mother for its final loss are heartfelt and I kinda liked that they gave the remnants a proper burial as though they're laying Cecilia in a grave once more.

Puck understands this, he may be a monkey (I do not say 'only') but he knows Una perhaps even better than she knows herself and its good they can weep together as though his wails unleash something in her. Maybe in normal times aunts don't cry in front of their nieces, but you'd have to say this is hardly normal and I think as scary as it might be for Iris, its necessary to cry in fear and loss when piece by piece your home is being shattered.

Going back I also appreciated the acknowledgment about starvation and the 'ditto' memories. Frenny understood it and knew that Una did too, without words it's evident they have a shared history there. One I expect they'll never get to explore but they know. And it's a good point that upon starving you cannot just start eating again like you would have before. In a way, I suppose Una killed Papatee a bit too late, but you'd have to be desperate to undertake it in the first place and life is not neat and well planned like that.
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