I recognized the author's name from his other work, A Woman of Cairo, so that fact together with my interest in 1930s Singapore motivated me to read this novel. I am glad I did because the writing and detailed survey of historical events are excellent and the storyline and character development are convincing at all times.
To me, it is a sign of gifted writing when I can actively like or dislike a character as though s/he is a real person. Barber's writing brings to life the attitudes and lifestyles of the colonial upper crust in a way that is both alluring and disgusting as he reveals their self indulgence, racial prejudices, and generally pointless social whirl.
It is also a testament to Barber's skill in character development that we can believe utterly in the transformation of a social butterfly into a wartime volunteer who suffers great physical hardship in order to "do the right thing" - a nice case of noblesse oblige.
Barber's insights into the operations of family firms is very interesting as they lay bare the inordinate challenges that parents lay down for their children, expecting the next generation to fulfill their own personal ambitions once more. How many children nowadays rise to this challenge, preferring instead to find their own way in life? Although it can be said, of course, that if one is born into a millionaire lifestyle, it's probably easier just to accept what one is given, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel by starting out on a new track.
I liked this work and will look forward to reading more works by Barber.