Book Review


Singapore Life, Seriously Funny

By Amanpreet Singh

Troublemaker Cover

Title: Troublemaker

By Bertha Henson
Published by Ethos Books Singapore
Price: $27
No. of pages: 462
Available from Ethos Books and all leading bookstores

“I apologise first for the rather informal style of writing that will follow in this book.” That was the first line of Bertha Henson’s Troublemaker, and perhaps what makes it all stand out from most local books.

The former editor of The Straits Times started her own WordPress blog,, the day after she ended her 26-year tenure with the publication in 2012, and it is fair to say she did write quite a fair bit. After all, that is how this whole book came about.

Troublemaker is a compilation of Henson’s blog posts over the years as well as articles from the now defunct Breakfast Network, an independent news publication website for which she was the editor.

While Bertha has written many articles throughout her career, this is her first book and she starts off by treading on a path where most would rather not stray, politics.

From the 2012 Hougang by-election to grassroots politics in general, Troublemaker wakes you from deep slumber during the eye-catching events that followed the 2011 General Election.

Her eloquent stand on the ideal MP (Member of Parliament) the people of Hougang want should get you thinking. “Someone who can banter with the slippered crowd over kopi-o or someone who is heartlander enough to grip a fishmonger’s hand?”

It is also worth noting that she does not show any form of resentment to any political party but rather offers her impartial, often tongue in cheek views.

Not many have the ability to dissect the most serious of issues yet get their point across by tweaking their writing style and that is what I personally love about Troublemaker. Henson can make even the most serious of topics witty and then go back to reality, almost as if she never strayed out of point.

If politics is not your thing, Henson also covers everyday Singaporean matters such as education, law and order, as well as the Internet and MDA (Media Development Authority) regulations.

Her take on the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) is one that most Singaporean parents, students and teachers can relate too. It is the first major “stress period” for every Singaporean child and Henson hilariously illustrates this using the fictional character of Wee Im Pee, a wimpy kid from a top primary school in Singapore with aspirations to become the highest scorer.

To add more of a personal touch to the book, she does not alter her style of writing. This is in order to retain the essence of her online writing self, which is interesting coming from such an experienced journalist. Her transition from structured hard news style to more casual free flow writing makes this a very interesting read.

So do not be surprised when you see short forms such as ‘G’ and ‘MSM’ popping out throughout the book, they merely refer to the ‘government’ and the ‘mainstream media’, as well as the inescapable ‘lah’ and ‘leh’s’ that we stumble upon every single day.

If you do decide to skip any sections, please refrain from skipping “Going for Class Monitor” where Henson will have you merrily chuckling at the very least as she mirrors the four-way fight during the 2013 Punggol-East by-election as one in the classroom for the position of class monitor.

Instead of venting your anger online or splurging your parents’ hard earned money at some ‘atas’ (as Henson calls it) restaurant, why not sit back, relax, have a cup of coffee (or tea, or whatever suits your taste) and get ready to have some trouble?

Bertha Henson: “Why do I write? I write to be read. Simple.”

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