Review: Final Notes from a Great Island

[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Reviewer: Yeo Han Hwee” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:left” google_fonts=”font_family:Abril%20Fatface%3Aregular|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”][vc_column_text]Reading through the “Notes and Scribbles” trilogy, what is most interesting is how Neil Humphreys built up his “brand” (for lack of a better term).

Remember, he was not a trained journalist. His last job prior to moving to Singapore was as an intern at a stockbroking firm. During his tenure, he built his career as a writer. He has written for The Straits Times, Men’s Health, My Paper, Today and the Singtel Mio Stadium website amongst others. He was written a few novels as well. Not too shabby.

I think it is quite accurate to call him a bit of a cultural phenomenon – albeit a cheeky, funny one that isn’t afraid to poke fun at his host country.

On to the book review. In 2006, Neil Humphreys and his wife planned to move to Geelong, Victoria, Australia (he claims he caught the traveling bug). According to his website, he was watching cable TV when he got the inspiration for a third book. A little over six months later, “Final Notes From A Great Island” was born. Neil has stated this is his favourite work.

The major premise of this book was that he would go on foot and explore the various nook and crannies of Singapore as a sort of a “farewell love letter”. The result is a cross between a dairy/nature/historical and city guide.

He writes about everything he encounters – the natural environment, strange locals, our heritage, historical anecdotes that you may have only learnt about, but never would have the time to experience first-hand.

After reading this book, I do have a renewed appreciation for some aspects of our culture. For example, it was a good refresher to read about the Reflections At Bukit Chandu memorial. The site was one of the worst, most bloody battles during the Japanese Occupation of WWII. The Malay soldiers fought to the bitter end, and distinguished themselves with their bravery and never-say-die attitude.

On the flipside, I was completely unaware about the history of Haw Par Villa. It was built by a pair of Burmese Chinese brother tycoons behind the Tiger Balm ointment brand. They built it in the 1930s, and it was designed to be a monument to Chinese culture, folklore and mythology. Truly, you learn something new every day.

I think the key to his appeal is thus – when he first arrived in Singapore in the 1990s, rather than mix around exclusively with the expat community, he stayed in the HDB heartland and mingled mostly with the locals. As a result, his writing appeals to both the expat community and the locals. His point of view is a Westerner, but with an innate understanding of what we locals see and appreciate. That is why it is refreshing. 

Funny, often poignant, thoughtful, and direct. “Final Notes From A Great Island” is very much like its author. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]9789814302296[/vc_column_text][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”gp-standard-sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ning Cai is a Singapore Literature Prize nominated author, who was also long listed for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. A bestselling writer, she is also recognised for her illusionist/ escapologist stage character Magic Babe Ning, and recognised by Channel News Asia as South East Asia's first professional female magician.

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