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The Singapore Grip (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 31, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews
Book 3 of 3 in the Empire Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews


"A brilliant, complex, richly absurd and melancholy monument to the follies and splendours of Empire."
— Hilary Spurling

"[This] vivid, multi-dimensional portrait of Singapore…is a superbly constructed book, enjoyable on many different levels."
The Sunday Times

"In Singapore…Farrell makes a heroic and memorable attempt to portray and understand not only the Japanese, but also the lives of the millions of poor, oppressed, displaced and dying whose destruction came about through no fault of their own, who were swept helplessly away by the tides of commercial interest and war."
— Margaret Drabble

"The author of the Booker Prize-winning The Siege of Krishnapur sets this brilliant work in Singapore in 1939, as an old English firm tries to cash in on the impending world war. A complex, often funny meditation on empire and other matters."
— Martin Levin, The Globe and Mail

"No writer has swallowed all of Singapore, from its stately colonial bungalows to its once opium-infested slums, with the verve and wit of the late J.G. Farrell, whose 1978 saga The Singapore Grip remains the great Singapore novel...Farrell's pungent aroma still fleetingly hovers over today's city...With his gentle wit Farrell captures the soul of Singapore: a polyglot Asian port, still partly under the sleepy sway of its British colonial past, and still lurching toward an uncertain future with a furious, irresistible energy."

—Time Magazine

About the Author

J.G.Farrell (1935–1979) was born with a caul, long considered a sign of good fortune. Academically and athletically gifted, Farrell grew up in England and Ireland. In 1956, during his first term at Oxford, he suffered what seemed a minor injury on the rugby pitch. Within days, however, he was diagnosed with polio, which nearly killed him and left him permanently weakened. Farrell’s early novels, which include The Lung and A Girl in the Head,have been overshadowed by his Empire Trilogy—Troubles, the Booker Prize–winning Siege of Krishnapur, and The Singapore Grip (all three are published by NYRB Classics). In early 1979, Farrell bought a farmhouse in Bantry Bay on the Irish coast. “I’ve been trying to write,” he admitted, “but there are so many competing interests—the prime one at the moment is fishing off the rocks… . Then a colony of bees has come to live above my back door and I’m thinking of turning them into my feudal retainers.” On August 11, Farrell was hit by a wave while fishing and was washed out to sea. His body was found a month later. A biography of J.G. Farrell, J.G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer by Lavinia Greacen, was published by Bloomsbury in 1999.

Derek Mahon was born in Belfast in 1941, studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and the Sorbonne, and has held journalistic and academic appointments in London and New York. He has received numerous awards, including the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Poetry Prize, the Irish Academy of Letters Award, the Scott Moncrieff and Aristeion translation prizes, and Lannan and Guggenheim fellowships. His Collected Poems were published in 1999 and Harbour Lights, a volume of new poetry, was published in 2006.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 584 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (January 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171365
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171363
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you were to select a subject for a droll and howlingly funny novel, it is doubtful that the fall of Singapore would be high on your list. Nevertheless, that's what you have here! The action centers on the British expat community who, intent on their usual trivial rounds of partying and copulating, are completely oblivious to the fact that the Japs are inexorably creeping down the Malay Peninsula. The novel properly darkens in tone as the city's situation becomes obviously desperate, but it maintains its ironic tone throughout. The result is an absolute masterpiece, and I don't use that term lightly.
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Format: Paperback
`Singapore Grip' recreates the world of pre-WWII Singapore. Farrell centers his tale around the Blackett and Webb conglomerate based on rubber plantations, but extends to wide-ranging export-import business. Singapore was created to be a trading center for the British Empire and it succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations.

As war edges closer the air of unreality gets thicker. Even when the Japanese attack Malaya in late 1941, these people just don't get it. Singapore Grip explores this world in detail and from many different perspectives. The higher in the colonial hierarchy, the harder it is for reality to penetrate. Walter Blackett, scion and head delusionist is still planning the company's 50th Jubilee while the Japanese are bombing the island and even Singapore town proper.

`Singapore Grip' is a vignette in what Huxley called "the descending road of modern history". The war gathers slowly, life begins to change, but not dramatically at first. But, the vise inexorably tightens and the world of the characters crumbles under the relentless pressure. Escape from the island seems at first an absurd idea, but it gradually becomes ever more desirable until it finally becomes impossible in the crush at the quays.

If you are tempted to turn away from this book, don't. `Singapore Grip' gathers force and clarity as Farrell slowly adds the pieces to his masterful mosaic and the reader is duly rewarded. The book has been recently reprinted in the excellent New York Review of Books Classics series. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
The UK's History Learning web site ([...]) does a marvelous job of sound biting World War II and offers these quotes about the fall of Singapore:

"Once the Japanese expanded throughout the region after Pearl Harbour (December 1941), many in Britain felt that Singapore would become an obvious target for the Japanese. However, the British military command in Singapore was confident that the power they could call on there would make any Japanese attack useless. One story told about the attitude of the British Army in Singapore was of a young Army officer complaining that the newly completed defences in Singapore might put off the Japanese from landing there.

"'I do hope we are not getting too strong in Malaya because if so the Japanese may never attempt a landing.'

"British troops stationed in Singapore were also told that the Japanese troops were poor fighters; alright against soldiers in China who were poor fighters themselves, but of little use against the might of the British Army.

"The Japanese onslaught through the Malay Peninsula took everybody by surprise. Speed was of the essence for the Japanese, never allowing the British forces time to re-group. This was the first time British forces had come up against a full-scale attack by the Japanese. Any thoughts of the Japanese fighting a conventional form of war were soon shattered. The British had confidently predicted that the Japanese would attack from the sea. This explained why all the defences on Singapore pointed out to sea. It was inconceivable to British military planners that the island could be attacked any other way - least of all, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula. But this was exactly the route the Japanese took." ...
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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 and which was 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 one 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 humaneness.

While the war of manners goes on and economic exploitation continues unabated, the Japanese are closing in the colonial territories.
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