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A good read if you are interested in the fall of Singapore but not as a love story
on 16 December 2011
Margaret Mayhew's research into the setting and context of the Japanese invasion of Singapore is very good - her local knowledge of British colonial society; their complacency and disdain of the Japanese as a military threat and the portrayal of their life style - servants/clubs/Raffles/cricket on the padang/ stengahs/kebuns/ mems, tuans - convincing. The book, however, reminded me very much of Neville Shute's "A Town Like Alice" - similar settings (of course!) with similar story lines - the heroine approaching the headman in the kampong asking permission to stay after surviving a sinking near Sumatra (cp. with Jean, in "A Town Like Alice" approaching her headman in the kampong in Trengganu); the torture of the hero by the Japanese and his surprise survival (Joe in a "A Town Like Alice" beaten by the Japanese in Kuantan and Mayhew's hero Ray, beaten and surviving the Sandakan Death March) - in both cases the heroes feared dead, only to be found alive at the end of the book. As an Australian, I found the Aussie dialogue trite and very cliched, even allowing for historical licence of Mayhew trying to capture the idiom of the time. Like Shute, Mayhew too overuses the phrase "Oh my word!" and there were even a few "crikeys" in there. Of course, there are the usual digs at the unattractive Australian accent - nasal and grating which all English writers indulge in as they compare it with an Oxbridge accent rather than an incomprehensible Yorkshire/Cockney or Somerset accent for example (ho hum!!)
Mayhew certainly succeeds in creating an exciting atmosphere of the impending disaster about to hit Singapore. Her descriptions of life as internees of the Japanese are graphic and convincing. The book was hard to put down, but I kept waiting for "the love story" to develop - for me, there was no chemistry whatsoever between the hero and the heroine, and the ending was very abrupt and unconvincing (especially when compared with Jean and Joe in "A Town Like Alice") I found the book very contrived; the story was almost incidental to the author's desire to evoke authenticity. If you are interested in the fall of Singapore, this is a worthwhile read. If you are interested in a love story, don't bother! A couple of nit-picking facts about Australia at the time: first, Australia would NEVER have permitted a cat from Singapore to enter the country without a year's quarantine (no rabies in Australia, so need to safeguard against any alien kitties coming in) and secondly, the heroine speeds across the outback (?) in Australia's own car, a Holden, presumably in 1945/46. The first Holden didn't roll off the production line until 1949, so she was probably in a Ford.