19 January 2013

Book review: Complete Notes from Singapore (2010) by Neil Humphreys, ***

Singapore skyline and the Merlion

In 1996, Neil Humphreys decided to travel the world. He ended up in Singapore.

His first book, "Notes from an even Smaller Island", became an immediate best-seller in 2001. Humphreys' travelling companion, Scott, said it was a load of bollocks.

In 2003, his second book, "Scribbles from the Same Island", a compilation of his popular humour columns in WEEKEND TODAY, was launched in Singapore and Malaysia and also became an immediate best-seller.

In 2006, he published "Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore" completed the trilogy. The book went straight to No.1 and decided to stay there for a few months. Having run out of ways to squeeze island into a book title, Humphreys moved to Geelong, Australia. He now writes for several magazines and newspapers in Singapore and Australia and spends his weekends happily looking for echidnas and platypuses. But he still really misses roti prata.


There is much that is interesting in this collection of three books. The author tells us about his personal adventures and misadventures in Singapore, where he lived for some ten years. The value added of this book is that one learns much about real life in Singapore that is not normally visible to tourists. Or at least about Neil's life in the country. He does speak a bit too much about himself at times. I would have appreciated it more if he had devoted less attention to himself and more to the country and its people. Yes, it is an autobiographical book, but still.

The three books could have been shorter and convey the same information. Yes he writes well and it is at times a real pleasure to read him, but still I felt more succint descriptions would have kept me more alert throughout the book.

I also found irritating that he kept comparing what he saw and whom he met in Singapore to his home in Dagenham, England. OK once or twice it could have been funny. But Dagenham appears over and over and over again: who cares :)! He gets a bit repetitive with other stuff too, like his land-lady walking around the apartment bare boobed. Again, yes it's funny, but even big bare boobs can get boring if you keep writing about the same anecdote all the time.

Of the three books, I think the first is the best. The second is second best (just re-issue of columns he wrote for a local paper) and the third the author probably wrote just because he became famous and was sure to sell.

I bought the kindle book with all three, but if you buy the paperback I'd say the first is enough, at least to start with, then you can decide if you want more.

A better book by another Brit who lived in Singapore is Singapore Swing by John Malatrona.

Get the paperback or kindle book here

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