22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes for wonderful reading
Another wonderful book by Farrell. This time we are Singapore upon whose shores the Second World War is about to reach. We see the usual collection of eccentric colonials and witness their social dealings. Whilst the rest of the Empire battled the Germans and Japanese, in Singapore fortunes are to be made and daughters to be married off. Farrell has created a wonderful...
Published on 13 Nov 2008 by Ibrahim Ali
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historically interesting, but slow
Having lived in Singapore for a few years just less than a decade after the events related in the book I found Farrell's interpretation of the history of these times quite interesting. However, as a novel, it didn't work for me and I found it rather slow. The actual story was quite simple but the book was padded out by too much of the history and I frequently found...
Published 15 months ago by Fogorig
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes for wonderful reading,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)Another wonderful book by Farrell. This time we are Singapore upon whose shores the Second World War is about to reach. We see the usual collection of eccentric colonials and witness their social dealings. Whilst the rest of the Empire battled the Germans and Japanese, in Singapore fortunes are to be made and daughters to be married off. Farrell has created a wonderful host of characters who often discuss the weightiest of matters in the most perilous situations. Thus not only are we treated to reading about them putting out incendiary bombs but we have them discussing the betterment of man whilst they do it. As with Farrell's other novels the book is wonderfully funny, this one is however tinged with sadness. The injustice of Empire is more apparent and the motives of the people whose stories we witness are much crasser than in his other books. This, as with all of Farrell's books is a must read.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An End of Empire Epic,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)This was much more of an epic than I expected. Nearest comparison I can think of is Olivia Manning's "Fortunes Of War" (Balkan and Levant trilogies), with a dash of Paul Scott (Raj quartet) and Evelyn Waugh (Sword Of Honour).
By turns serious and satirical, it recounts the inexorable decline of the ex-pat British colonial community in Malaya, as the imperial Japanese storm gathers, bursts, and ultimately destroys their apparently invunerable world of privilege.
Although parts of the book are slow (but often funny), it is never less than absorbing, and builds to a gripping and moving climax, which I found utterly unputdownable.
Sadly, this was to be Farrell's last book, as he died shortly after completing it.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)I don't recognise the book that Michael Kalk describes. Every one of Farrell's characters comes to life on the page. And though the book is long, it's never boring - it immerses you in colonial Singapore on the cusp of the Japanese invasion. As usual with Farrell, the narrative is threaded through with dark humour - right down to the title. When you find out what 'Singapore grip' means, you'll think twice about asking for it by name at your local bookshop.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seriously comic tragedy--the 1942 fall of Singapore,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)A really fine novel by the superb British writer, J.G. Farrell. I got this title because of the overwhelmingly favorable Amazon reviews (hats off to those who praised the book in this forum) and because of my own positive experience with one of Farrell's other sagas of British colonialism, "The Siege of Krishnapur".
"The Singapore Grip" is a social satire as incisive and entertaining as some of Evelyn Waugh's better books and certainly as good in capturing the cracks in the facade of empire building and maintenance. The story opens in the late 1930s with an unsparing look at the British business community which was running the Malaya/Burma/Singapore branches of the colonial empire, focused entirely on the maximum exploitation of the natural resources of those territories on behalf of the metropole and very much at the expense of the native populations. That ruthless selfish behavior is boasted of and lionized by "...Grip's" business characters. The same characters speak of the "virtues" of classism, racism, anti-intellectualism, anti-humanism--and the list goes on. Entering the scene is the scion of an important Singapore business family who is a relative naif to all of this, having labored fruitlessly for a number of years for the League of Nations. He becomes the ineffective critic of all the much prized bad behavior of his peers, but also a bridge to the local native population and hence to some kind of sanity and humaness.
While the war of manners goes on and economic exploitation continues unabated, the Japanese are closing in the colonial territories. Ignored and then denigrated as a military force until they invade Malaya through friendly Thailand, the Japanese Army is soon pounding down the Malay peninsula toward the stronghold of Singapore. The rest of the story includes some amazingly good accounts of infantry and tank battles, military strategy and tactical bungling and, eventually, the disintegration of Singapore's defenses and the fall of the city. The reaction of the besieged population to the attacks on the city is rather brilliantly imagined and told. There are some comeuppances doled out here, but not nearly in the amounts merited. The author's message being that life is never fair and the weak will always be at a disadvantage in the face of adversity.
These few paragraphs don't come close to doing justice to this extremely skillful and engrossing story that has a terrific storyline and plot (mostly following the true line of history) and brilliantly sketched characters who are mostly flawed but all accurately reflecting their time and place. A wonderful read by a very talented writer.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Singapore Gripping,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)15 August 2000
I SIMPLY CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS WONDERFUL STORY HIGHLY ENOUGH. I bought it purely on 'spec' as I was hunting around Amazon for any book on Singapore or the Far East (I was in a nostalgic mood for the exotic orient - probably our lousy summer weather here in the Uk did it). This book turned out to be an absolute treasure - Singapore in the last months before the fall to the Japanese is brought to life with remarkable vividness and the most loving detail. This is a truly compelling tale, by turns deeply poignant, hilarious, slap-stick, and bitterly ironic. Draped everywhere are succulent vignettes of colonial life and English eccentricity, all set against the dramatic, vast, dark tableau of the looming war in South-east Asia. It is a very clever and cleverly told story too. But the characters are the real strength here - it is a real ensemble piece, with a large and varied cast of 'players', and they are all so fascinating and three-dimensional you will find yourself completely captivated as you follow their progress and adventures, and watch them interact. An atmospheric, evocative, pungent, compelling, spell-binding book, perfect for tucking up in bed with on a cold rainy night, which will utterly absorb you into its streets and settings. I EXHORT YOU to order this book. J.G. Farrell was unknown to me before I stumbled across this book here at Amazon, and now I shall be ordering a couple more of his books next. The Singapore Grip is supposedly one of three books by Farrell referred to by critics as Farrell's 'Empire Trilogy' - guess what I'm ordering next!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Strong nations will always take advantage of the weak if they can do so with impunity....Their own interests will be served.",
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)When the Japanese invaded China in 1937 and French Indo-China in 1941, the handwriting was on the wall for the colony of Singapore, one of Great Britain's most important military and economic centers. Hubris, and the sense that their military power was vastly superior to any other in the world, however, led to Britain's lack of military preparedness and the astonishingly quick takeover of Malaya and Singapore by the Japanese in 1942, handing the British what Winston Churchill called "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." Author J. G. Farrell recreates these traumatic days in Singapore as the final novel in his "Empire Trilogy," which, like Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur, combines Farrell's cynicism, black humor, and sense of absurdity with his uncompromising honesty about colonialism--Britain's greed, its colonial "mission," and its cruelty toward its "subjects."
The venerable Singapore merchant firm of Blackett and Webb and its principals come vibrantly alive here as they deal with continuing strikes, unrest in rural areas, challenges to the government by the communists, and an influx of immigrants from other countries. The outbreak of war in Europe has made the demand for Blackett and Webb's rubber supplies a high priority for Britain's military cars and planes, and Blackett and Webb are poised to capitalize by manipulating prices, withholding product, and evading the law. Associating with generals, the leaders of society, and local governors, the company's representatives are busy planning an elaborate jubilee celebration. Even as the Japanese are attacking from the north, Walter Blackett continues with the planned celebration.
Farrell has obviously spent a great deal of time researching not only the actions of the military and diplomatic corps from several countries, but also determining the personalities of the British characters (real) who act within the novel. Air Chief-Marshall Sir Robert Brooke-Popham and Lt. Gen. Arthur Percival have innumerable scenes which establish their attitudes and explain their actions--and inactions. In a surprise, Farrell also includes scenes in which the Japanese reveal their own points of view as officers Kikuchi, Matsushida, and his assistant Nakamura, prepare for the battle for Singapore.
Farrell handles innumerable plot lines (and battle lines) with assurance and historical accuracy, illustrating the reality of history within the everyday lives of the merchant princes of Singapore. As the Japanese come closer to attacking Singapore, the reader is stunned by some of the reactions of the British community, concerned primarily that "the dignity of the British Government is at stake," not with the real lives that are threatened. As Singapore falls, the horrors are dramatic, revealing the inner resources--or lack thereof--of all the main characters, and as these escape--or fail to escape--Farrell has educated his readers so well that it is difficult to decide whether to be glad or sad about the fates of the characters we have followed for five hundred pages. Ultimately, Farrell's own opinions in favor of a forward-thinking world view shine through brightly, in stark contrast to those of his main characters. Mary Whipple
Troubles: (New York Review Books Classics)
The Siege of Krishnapur (New York Review Books Classics)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)An engrossing book, if a little long-winded from time to time. This was probably due to the author's enthusiasm, no to be doubted, having got the better of him. An interesting blend of fact and fiction. If one is interested to follow-on from where The Singapore Grip leaves off, Sinister Twilight by Noel Barber is an excellent factual account.
I am familiar with SE Asia, but I think many who are not would better understand the geography of the Japanese invasion of the region and the British defence, by having a small map in the front of the book. I often think that about books where geography is important to the narrative.
I was distracted by Farrell's preoccupation with the word "presently" which sometimes appears twice on a page. Odd for someone so obviously objective otherwise.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable and beautiful work,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Kindle Edition)This is a substantial and remarkable book in which Farrell documents the colonial years just before, and during the Japanese invasion of Singapore.
Rich in characters and full of colour and texture, he describes the life and times of the Patriarch of one of the old rubber firms, and his aspirations for the next generation. Progressively, his world falls apart - as the business seems to have missed major opportunities, but then the war takes over, and all else is unreal. The new generation fails to conform to his wishes, as the world is rapidly turned upside down.
Most of the action is described from the points of view of the two main characters, Walter and Matthew Blackett; it is their lives and hopes that are explored - both rich in reminiscence and dreams.
The amazing variety in Malaya and Singapore is vividly brought to life through the various social groupings from the comfortable colonials, and the military clubs, to the sordid Chinese "dying house", and the tenements. Each scenario is accompanied by the characters appropriate to each, increasingly intermingling as the war proceeds and forces all the races and social classes together.
At the end the Europeans are separated out and taken to Changi, and on the way they are jeered at by some Indian shopkeepers -reminding Matthew of the King Williams response to a boatman who asks "who won the battle?" - he replied "what is it to you, you will still be the boatman".
Finally, there is some hope - Matthew receives an indication that his Chinese friend, Vera, is still there somewhere, and Walter's daughter, Kate is shown in a tantalisingly "possible" scenario in her middle age in 1976 married to someone - possibly the American Ehrendorf - in her Chelsea home.
Extensively researched, beautifully written, and skilfully crafted.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous achievement,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)'The Singapore Grip' is the third and last novel in what is commonly referred to as Farrell's Empire trilogy. Each part deals with a key event in the history of the British empire: the Indian Mutiny in 1857 ('The Siege of Krishnapur'), the Irish war of independence ('Troubles'), and, finally, the fall of Singapore to the Japanese army during World War II in 'The Singapore Grip'. Each of these is in fact a fully-fledged novel in itself and there is no real need to read them in a chronological order, although it does increase the enjoyment derived from the whole trilogy. And enjoyment there is to be had, and plenty of it too! I have rarely read novels that know how to combine, as these do, comedy and humour with tragedy and pessimism.
The action is set in Singapore in the early years of World War II, where Walter Blackett rules one of the biggest business empires in town. But as in the other two parts of the Empire trilogy, Farrell demonstrates how amazingly quickly a seemingly well-ordered and permanent society can disintegrate into chaos. At the beginning of the novel, Blackett and his family inhabit a world of luxury, cocktails and dress parties, where Walter's only problem seems to be who to leave his business to when he retires. His son Monty is a failure in his eyes, so that leaves only his two daughters Kate and Joan. Kate's still too young, but Joan is an intelligent young woman. If she could be persuaded to marry the right kind of man, maybe all will work out well? And according to Walter, the right man may just have arrived... Walter's business partner Mr. Webb recently having passed away, his son Matthew has come to Singapore to take over his father's interest in the business.
But before long Matthew, in Walter's eyes, turns out to be a disappointment too: he asks all the wrong sort of questions about the treatment of native workers on Walter's rubber plants, he seems even - God forbid! - to find fault with the ruthless money-grabbing tactics Walter has been practicing for years. And meanwhile, slowly but inexorably, the Japanese army is fighting its way towards Singapore...
I'll not spoil the fun anymore by saying what happens next, but I cannot but urge you to read this book and find out for yourselves. Farrell, in a most humouristic way, demonstrates how each of the main characters is blind to the upheaval Singapore is rapidly going through, locked as they are in their pre-conceived ideas about how society should be run. Walter can only ever see the business-side of things, and is utterly unable to perceive the injustice involved in his relentless search for more and more profits, just as Matthew has an all too naive belief in the 'brotherhood of all men'.
And although there's plenty to be sad about (there's a war going on, after all), Farrell knows how to tell this tale in a delightful style full of humour, jokes and witticisms that is quite simply a joy to read. The setting and characters are described in a most colourful language, and the dialogues are superb, interlaced with double meanings and irony. While reading this delightful book I constantly had the feeling I only have with truly good books: that strange mix of finding yourself unable not to read on, while simultaneously wishing the book would never end.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging finale to Farell's Empire Trilogy,
This review is from: The Singapore Grip (Paperback)In the final part of this trilogy charting the decline of the British Empire, Major Brendan Archer features as usual, though this time in more of a supporting role. The action takes place in Singapore on the eve of the Japanese invasion during WW2. It focuses on the life of a wealthy colonial family and provides massive and intelligent insight into one of the pillars of the Asian part of the Empire: the rubber industry. Even if you are not familiar with British imperial history, this novel is likely to fill you in on more than the key details but neatly avoids sounding like a textbook - always a sign of a skilled author of historical 'fiction'. The Japanese invasion changed Singapore forever, and it's difficult for many to recall what the settlement founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in the nineteenth century on the site of a small fishing village was once like. The Singapore Swing recaptures colonial Singapore in its decadent heydays and transports the reader into the world of the haves, and the have nots. The flaws and inequalities of empire are more fully exposed this time round - an account of a hospital for the poor being a memorable chapter - and there is an interesting psychological portrait of General Percival, the commander of British forces defending Singapore who surrendered to the Japanese. The author tries to explain Percival's fateful decision - which turned out to be Britain's worst ever military blunder - by playing on his Percial's representation as a rabbit, his fears, and nightmares. Whilst an interesting and engaging angle, this psychoanalysis of a now-dead military leader is probably going a step too far and one criticism one may level at this novel is that it tries to do too much. However, the sheer panic as the Japanese tanks sweep through Malaya towards Singapore is tangible through the author's powerful style, along with the tragic resignation as the colony is surrendered. The final scene of the book is the most moving, as the Japanese begin to march characters off to their hideous POW camps, most of them never to be seen again. The Singapore Swing is a tragic commentary on the follies and evils of empire - both British and Japanese. Well worth a look, but probably sits better as the last book of a trilogy rather than an entity on its own, not because of continuity problems (of which there are none), but rather that the last of the three is probably the weakest individually and is rather flat when viewed in isolation, aside from which it doesn't really do authorial intention enough credit.
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The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell (Paperback - 1 July 1996)