Framed between an introductory sequence set in 1938 and a briefer, rather enigmatic, concluding scene set in 1976, The Singapore Grip details the single most important event to befall the British Empire in the Asian theater of World War II: the surrender of Singapore to Japanese forces. It does so with a breathtaking wealth of detail and in a tone the persistent irony of which has the effect of undercutting the narrative’s epic propensities.
The story focuses on the Blackett family, whose head is Walter, an ambitious, successful, avaricious, blinkered entrepreneur, co-owner of the firm of Blackett and Webb. In the opening sequence, everything in the garden is lovely, literally (not the least of J. G. Farrell’s accomplishments is the care with which he attends to local exotic flora and fauna and the rich, rather lotos-eating atmosphere they generate) and metaphorically. The metaphorical sense conveys ease, abundance, leisure, and freedom to do whatever one pleases, in either the economic or the political sphere. This lull before the storm is a subtle demonstration of how seductive is the grip in which the deracinated British imperialists are held. Before Singapore fell to the invading forces of an enemy empire, the Japanese, the Blacketts and their numerous ilk had hopelessly fallen for it.
Rather than take an explicitly economic or political view of his material, however, Farrell chooses to regard it from the standpoint of...
(The entire section is 583 words.)