The Singapore Grip

The Singapore Grip

by J. G. Farrell, Derek Mahon

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Singapore, 1939: life on the eve of World War II just isn't what it used to be for Walter Blackett, head of British Singapore's oldest and most powerful firm. No matter how forcefully the police break one strike, the natives go on strike somewhere else. His daughter keeps entangling herself with the most unsuitable beaus, while her intended match, the son of Blackett's partner, is an idealistic sympathizer with the League of Nations and a vegetarian. Business may be booming—what with the war in Europe, the Allies are desperate for rubber and helpless to resist Blackett's price-fixing and market manipulation—but something is wrong. No one suspects that the world of the British Empire, of fixed boundaries between classes and nations, is about to come to a terrible end.

A love story and a war story, a tragicomic tale of a city under siege and a dying way of life, The Singapore Grip completes the “Empire Trilogy” that began withTroubles and the Booker prize-winning Siege of Krishnapur.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590174173
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 11/24/2010
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 584
Sales rank: 723,976
File size: 857 KB

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 Writerby 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, is forthcoming in 2005.

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Singapore Grip 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
`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.
DeltaQueen50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This well written book gives an overview of pre-World War II Singapore and the events leading up to it¿s downfall. The books¿ main focus is on the Blackett¿s a family of merchants grown wealthy on rubber. We are shown both the British expat community, intent on their small daily lives, failing to see what is looming on the horizon, and the British military command¿s overconfidence and distain for the Japanese.The European war has created a great demand for rubber. Walter Blackett sees this as an opportunity for profit by fixing prices and withholding product. This is also a time of general strikes and unrest. J.G. Farrell does not hesitate to show the exploitation that the British Colonial way of life practiced. We see how their lives slowly change, they become more and more aware of the fact that the Japanese are moving down the Malay Peninsula. At first evacuation seems unthinkable, then perhaps desirable but of course eventually impossible. The Japanese arrive and Singapore suffers what Winston Churchill called ¿the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history¿.I believe the author has written a historically accurate story, giving us glimpses of both the British and Japanese viewpoints. I found myself struggling at times with pages and pages of facts and political background information. Overall the tone of the book weaved back and forth between being ironic about the British Colonial system and a sense of whimsical memory of times lost.
pnorman4345 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel of manners and political argument about the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. The argument aspect involves the exploitation of Malaysia and its people by the business interests of Singapore. The comedy of manners derives from this.
Joycepa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Third in Farrell¿s Empire trilogy, The Singapore Grip is also the ¿worst¿, a term I emphasize is relative only within the trilogy (The Siege of Krishnapur and Troubles being the first two). Farrell examined the role of the British in their colonial empire¿and set them up for ridicule. He succeeded brilliantly with the first two, especially with Troubles, which is a masterpiece. However, there is a boundary line in satire; if you go too far over that line, the figures stop being objects of mockery and merely become one-dimensional and thus boring. That seems to be what happened with The Singapore Grip¿Farrell was too heavy-handed with two of his major protagonists in particular and several of the comprimario ones; as a result, there are entire sections of the book that are dull and boring, in which the reader slogs through hoping for better days. They certainly occur, but the price is a little stiff.The setting of the book is the island of Singapore, starting in 1937, just before the outbreak of World War II. The opening sets the stage for the Farrell¿s attitude towards the British merchant barons in the Far East. The description of Singapore ¿high society" (meaning the British, of course) is a fascinating southeast Asian analogue of that same society in Ireland (Troubles) and in India (Siege of Krishanpur). Walter Blackett, head of the firm of Blackett and Webb, Singapore¿s oldest British-owned business, is planning the company¿s jubilee celebration: a massive parade extolling the virtues of Blackett and Webb as the epitome of progressive business and the benefits it brings to the substantially inferior natives and other ethnic groups who labor in the rice fields, rubber plantations, warehouses, and other entities of the companies diverse business interests. Yet, at the same time, we¿re told of worker strikes, the horrendous living conditions of the workers, price fixing, the efforts Blackett and Webb have made to force independent rubber producers out and create an oligarchy of such producers for the British-owned business. On the horizon is the Japanese, whom no one takes seriously as a possible threat to the Malay Peninsula and Singapore itself. But nothing matters to Walter except Blackett and Webb, and to this end he is willing to use his daughter to seduce and marry, if need be, the son of the former owner, now dead, in order to get control of the son¿s shares in the company. Interestingly enough, the daughter is perfectly happy to do so. All part of the ethos of the British merchant class.Walter Blackett is a caricature; throughout the book, he is depicted as being far more interested in his business enterprises and the outwitting of a major rival than in anything else, including his country. When the Japanese do invade, Walter even contemplates doing business with them, clearly treason, but such notions never cross his mind. What¿s good for Blackett and Webb is good for everyone else, including England, an astonishing perspective of collaboration with an enemy.Matthew is the other major caricature, that of the guilt-ridden liberal who claims to see all the evil colonialism does yet does nothing but talk. And talk. And talk. To the point where it¿s no longer amusing but truly boring¿you want to shake him and tell him to just shut up.We meet Major Archer again, in his 50s now, but this time, Archer is not the diffident, helpless soul he was in Troubles. In fact, during the Battle of Singapore, Archer heads one of the city¿s volunteer fire brigades and organizes shelter and food for the ever-increasing number of refugees.There are other, minor characters, more or less well done. Walter¿s daughter Joan is too conniving to be real. There¿s an American officer caught by the Japanese invasion. There¿s the Frenchman Dupigny who was an official in French colonial Indochina before the Japanese overwhelmed that area. There are brief, interesting appea
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most cleverly written and fascinating novels i have read. It is a shame that farrell died so young and could not continue to grace us wwith books this rare
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago