Monday, November 18, 2013

My Singapore Lover by Judy Chapman

It seems like this year, books set in Singapore have finally started to become popular. And I'm not talking locally published books. First there was Crazy Rich Asians (read my review here), and now, My Singapore Lover, which, to be honest, I requested because of the word Singapore.

Sadly, it seems like my search for an awesome book set in Singapore and published to a worldwide audience is not over. I didn't actually like this book very much.

Why? You ask. For one thing, the speech. At least for Crazy Rich Asians, the Singaporeans talk like Singaporeans. Here, the Singaporeans all sound too.... strange. I know that Sara isn't a Singaporean, but still, you'd think that the book could afford to put in Singlish now and then.

Another thing would be that  I didn't like Sara. I think I liked her less than Rachel Chu, the protagonist of Crazy Rich Asians. At least Rachel was a sufficiently empty character that I could enjoy the setting. Here, the book was full of Rachel's voice, which was just whiny to me. Not so much of a learning journey, but just her whining until she decides to put on her big-girl clothes. I'm serious. She doesn't realise anything, she's running and she knows it. And unfortunately, she wasn't a sympathetic enough character for me to root for her.

The third, and last thing, would be the inaccuracies in the book. It's not that much, but they appear mostly in the beginning, which prevented me from liking the book. You can skip the list (actually, I'm just three points, not all that caught my eye) if you want:

1. A character 'slices fried carrot cake.' The only type of carrot cake that you can slice would be the baked one. If you can slice this:
Picture from Wikipedia Commons
Then I sincerely congratulate you. In all my years eating it, I've either picked it up directly with chopsticks or with a fork - it's already in little pieces, why would I need to slice it?

2. "Crystal Jade is situated on the fifth floor of Paragon Shopping Centre and is one of Singapore's finest establishments for chilli crab, a local seafood dish." While I have eaten at Paragon's Crystal Jade a few times (there are a few outlets by the way), and it is a nice, though extremely expensive place, I'd hesitate to say that it's known for Chilli Crab. If you ask me where the best Chilli Crab is found, I'll probably say something like Jumbo Seafood restaurant. Not Crystal Jade, which for me, is more for when you want a high class Chinese dinner. 

3. "It does not take me long to discover that infidelity is not as forbidden here as in other countries." Please, just last week or so we banned Ashley Madison, the adultery website. The government banned it as a symbolic stand on where our societal values are (they know you can always use a VPN to get around it), and because many many many Singaporeans made a huge fuss. Considering that the book was set in 2005 (the 'Year of the Rooster'), I'd have thought that we were, if anything, more conservative then.

The only saving grace of this book is that every now and then, it describes a part of Singapore in a beautiful way. Like the migrant workers, or parts of Chinatown and Little India, those bits of prose were what stood out to me. 

Which means that I would have liked the book a lot more if they just kept those descriptions of Singapore and added photos, making it a travel guide. 

I wish I did like this book. After all, I'd love for Singapore to be the setting for many books. But unfortunately, the occasional gems in the prose was not enough to save the annoying characters and the inaccuracies. 

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this galley from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. 

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