Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A major premise of The Singapore Grip is that, to paraphrase the apothegm of Karl Marx, when history repeats itself the result is farce. This sense is evident from the novel’s tone, from the abortively heroic or (more usually) conspicuously nonheroic actions of the colonists in defense of their domicile, and from the general air of perhaps morbid satire with which the historical dimension of characters and events is suffused. At one level, The Singapore Grip is compellingly readable and pleasurably distracting, with its painstaking re-creation of the variety, energy, and exoticism of bygone Singapore. At another level, however, this novel is decidedly cerebral in its treatment of such sizable themes as history, imperialism, and the inexhaustible inventiveness of human cupidity and folly.

These themes are intriguingly united in the symbolic aspects of the centennial parade honoring Blackett and Webb, the success of which is so dear to Walter Blackett’s heart. The carnival aspect of this event is a satirical rendering of the simple-minded and single-minded sense of history appropriate to the crude notion of progress enshrined in the firm’s success. As the novel is at pains to point out, history is polyphonic and various. Any claims to progress must be regarded as problematic, and not with the Blackett air of self-gratulation, a view which the Japanese invasion would appear to endorse. In the event, the much-heralded parade is...

(The entire section is 482 words.)