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The Singapore Grip (Empire Trilogy #3)

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  927 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
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 par ...more
Paperback, 632 pages
Published July 1st 1980 by Berkley Publishing Group (first published 1978)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Megan Baxter
Apr 17, 2013 Megan Baxter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warning: some of the characters in this book are immensely irritating! This doesn't make it a bad book, but it did make me want to strangle Walter at regular intervals. And he's fictional. That's an accomplishment.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Molly Ison
Dec 18, 2013 Molly Ison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book on its own, but a mediocre book when compared with Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur, J.G. Farrell's previous books about the end of the British Empire.

Another review described The Singapore Grip as more heavy-handed than the previous novels and I would agree. It was hard to really get a handle on the story because instead of characters, there were ideologies with names, all trying to get in a soliloquy about their own stances before the next one could take over the conve
What's stayed with me after completing this novel and the two previous books in the "Empire Trilogy" has to be how strongly delivered each story has been.

This one deals with Singapore on the eve of Japanese invasion. For the Blackett family their way of life will be gone forever and their lives and those of their friends will no longer be as they know it.

I will say that this book has a "darker" humor than the previous two, but I appreciate a darker humor and enjoyed it. I still have a slight lea
Dec 04, 2010 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Farrell, J. G. THE SINGAPORE GRIP. (1973). *****. This was the third and last of Farrell’s trilogy of novels that dealt with the English colonial systems. The first, “Troubles,” tells of the conditions existing between England and Ireland right after WW I. The second, “The Siege of Krishnapore,” a Booker Prize-winner, is set in India in Farrell’s fictional town ruled by the troops of the East India Company; the time was 1857. This novel is set in Singapore during the start of WW II, and lays out ...more
James Murphy
Jun 18, 2009 James Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Singapore Grip is the 3d volume of Farrell's Empire Trilogy. Following the gradual destruction of Krishnapur during the 1st volume's depiction of the Sepoy Mutiny and the collapse of an Irish manor house in Troubles, this 3d volume is about the 1941 Japanese invasion of Malaysia and the disintegration of Singapore and British society there. The end of empire, which seems to be Farrell's big theme. The Singapore Grip is my favorite of the 3 novels. I believe it to be the most stylized novel o ...more
Jan 26, 2015 Nooilforpacifists rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller, asia
The decline of the British Empire, compressed into the fall of Singapore. From the title -- which, by the way, never quite is pinned down -- to the "Schrodinger's Cat" ending, Farrell draws romance, commerce, political theory, and an accurate retelling of military blundering. An Edwardian springs-running-down like Evelyn Waugh, but better written. All played with astonishing wit. A one quote summary?

"I read somewhere that the boatman who rowed King William back across the river after the Battle
Grace Tjan
The Siege of Krishnapur succeeds because Farrell let his colonial characters expose their own tragicomic ridiculousness with minimal intervention. Here, in the last novel of his Empire Trilogy, he was much more heavy-handed, resulting in several main characters that are outright caricatures. Walter Blackett, the head of the eponymous British trading firm that grew fat on the pre-war Malayan rubber boom, is the Evil Capitalist-Imperialist-Racist who bumbles through his public and private lives wi ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Based on my reading of the first two books in Farrell's Empire Trilogy, I expected this to be the conflict of the British and a native population. Farrell did give us a sort of outline of strikes and unrest beginning in about 1937. It wasn't really until the Japanese invasion of the Malay peninsula had begun that we learned the extent of the British thumb on things.

I come almost entirely of English and Scottish ancestry going back several centuries. We were middle class - farmers and teachers fo
One very well written book on the last days of Singapore before the Japanese occupation, humorous, and tense, Farrell nails down the times, the economics, the culture, and the city with plenty of characters fictional and historical.
I was looking forward to reading The Singapore Grip but I was disappointed by it. I paid a small fortune for it in British postage costs when I belonged to an online Booker Prize reading group … we had chosen The Siege of Krishnapur as a book for discussion but I couldn’t buy it here in Australia. (Yes, this was before the Book Depository existed and when the fledgling Amazon focussed on US titles). In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, and I bought the entire Empire Trilogy comprising Trou ...more
Patrick McCoy
Nov 24, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I had never heard of Irishman J.G. Farrell before coming across this book, The Singapore Grip. It seems that he achieved a lot in his short life (he died while swimming in 1979 at the age of 44). This is the third of his books based on the fall of the British colonial empire known as the —Empire Trilogy— that began with Troubles (Ireland) and the Booker prize-winning Siege of Krishnapur (India). This novel is an epic novel in scope starting in 1939 before Singapore falls to the Japanese. Farrrel ...more
Feb 04, 2013 Feliks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A combination of 'The Great Gatsby' and 'Catch-22'. Has everything: memorable characters, action, romance, social commentary, philosophy, and a sprawling historical saga. Absolutely one of the most hilarious reads ever. Wonderfully polished, garrulous, insightful, confiding-in-the-reader-style book; a wry, tongue-in-cheek peek into the lives of quaint, lost, forgotten Britishers and their colonial ways during the height of the Empire. Amusing, exotic, lively. A must for all anglophiles. Farrell' ...more
May 12, 2013 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, history, comedy
A more scathing indictment of British colonialism, or in fact any form of colonialism is hard to imagine. With humour Farrell unmasks the smug hypocrisy that blanketed acts of complete immorality. Yet the novel although overlong is no didactic creed,the author has the confidence to let the reader draw his own conclusions from a deft and very funny satire and social history.

Upon his fathers death a young idealist is summonsed to Singapore by the very very venal mr Blackett. As the young man stumb
An almost-masterpiece. Only problem: too long! Very intelligent and well researched. The title: a word play between the Engl. "grip" and the Fr. "grippe" (flu).
Literary Review The
J.G. Farrell
The Singapore Grip

By Drew Calvert

"The Singapore Grip" was reviewed in The Literary Review
"Loss Control" Fall 2012

The Singapore Grip is the final installment of J.G. Farrell’s “Empire Trilogy,” which chronicles the spectacle of British colonialism over the course of two centuries, from Ireland to India to Southeast Asia. It is also one of the only Anglo-American works of fiction set primarily in the city in which I grew up. I discovered it over a decade ago on
Joyce Lagow
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 ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 01, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Tolstoy of the Asian Theatre

A vast and absorbing work of historical fiction, this magnificent novel is set in Singapore, in the months leading to the fall of the city to the Japanese in 1942. The unexpected and total defeat of the commonwealth allies by forces whose fighting abilities they had previously pooh-poohed has been called the worst defeat in British military history. Farrell describes these events very well, both by getting inside the minds of the real-life commanders and by invent
Seth Reeves
Good but not as good as the previous two books in this trilogy on different instances of the British empire interacting poorly with the people they ruled over outside of their own island. The characters were more one-sided and the story had a far more cynical bent than 'Siege of Krishnapur' or 'Troubles.' The characters are divided into two camps, good guys and bad guys, and this was not as interesting to read about as it would have been to balance the characters' personalities a bit more.

I did
Aug 21, 2010 Nick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 26, 2012 Ira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just a fantastic book in so many ways. It works on so many different levels. It's a great, sprawling character study. It describes a time and a place with what seems like honesty. Even though the characters feel real and are vested with human, interior problems, they also act as stand-ins for larger concept: ineffective idealism, self-justifying capitalism and exploitation, lost innocence; somehow, despite its subject matter, it's funny. I could go on and on.

There is a scene where Farrell descr
Feb 07, 2017 Faith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So glad I finally decided to read the final book in the Empire Trilogy. These books are so well written I almost can't stand it. This may actually be the weakest of the three, but that is only because Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur are two of the best books of the 20th c. The sense of dread when reading as the British characters drink gin & tonics and organize tennis parties while the empire is literally crumbling around them. The outrage about the vast cruelty and exploitation of colo ...more
Mary Mahoney
Aug 08, 2016 Mary Mahoney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent historical fiction and satire on the Fall of Malaya and Singapore to the Japanese and the ramp up to this military disaster by under-supplied and poorly commanded British and Austrailian troops. On February, 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered to General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Japanese Imperial Army. About 130,000 Indian, Austrailian, and British troops became prisioners of war. Singapore civilians of many ethnicities were also captured. A high number so Singapore c ...more
Mike Harper
Sep 23, 2013 Mike Harper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two books, really.
The first half or so is a beautiful comedy about colonial, mercantile Singapore just before the fall. The characters are introduced, the stage is set, and aside from the sense of impending doom, life goes on as it has for 50 years. Walter and his horrible daughter Joan are characters you'll love to hate, but you won't know what to think about Matthew, the ineffectual dreamer.
Then come the Japanese, and the comedy pretty much ends. Matthew, the Major, Dupigny, Mr. Wu, Vera Chain
Aug 10, 2010 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fitting end to the Empire trilogy, with Farrell digging deep into the consequences of economic colonialism. The devil is in the detail, but so is the richness that prevents Farrell's characters from becoming puppets or mouthpieces for the various ideologies that sustained and sought to undermine the stranglehold of western business in the imperial colonies of the east. I found much of the book moving, particularly the chapter in which Matthew is taken by the Vera to the dying house and forced ...more
Sep 01, 2011 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
The reading of J.G. Farrell's trilogy: "Troubles," "Siege at Krishnapur" and "The Singapore Grip" has been one the greatest experiences of my nearly 58 years of bookworm life. Farrell's understanding of people and circumstances and his truly Dickensian story telling skills (I've not read a writer who lifts the veil on scenes in a way as reminiscent of Dickens and Farrell) are breathtaking.

I will miss the people I met in these books very much.

Tom Wascoe
Dec 29, 2012 Tom Wascoe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historical fiction is my favorite genre so this is the kind of book I enjoy. Good tale about Singapore before it fell to Japan in WWII. Does an excellent job recreating Singapore as it existed then. I could touch it, feel it, smell it. Excellent story teller. At times a little too preachy on his view of the world through various characters but does well in chronicaling the excesses of the British Empire.
I loved J.G. Farrell's Troubkes. And he clearly specialized in writing about the British pre post-colonial moment. But I'm having trouble with the rampant racism in the book. I know it's a feature of the era and all but I feel like the lack of any fully articulated non-white perspectives in the book is damaging, in an otherwise well written thoughtful book ...
Jul 25, 2011 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: colonial, fiction, war
Found it a more well developed and mature novel compared to the critically acclaimed Siege of Krishnapur, perhaps since the geographical setting is much closer to heart. A better literary rendition of pre-war Singapore will be tough to come by. A masterpiece of historical fiction.
Jul 04, 2010 Elaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
My least favorite of the trilogy by far. Too much (boring) political philosophy being passed off (barely) as dialogue, and a little too much military strategy for my taste. Still, a gripping setting and the Farrell touches of humor aren't lacking.
Caleb Guillotte
Apr 24, 2008 Caleb Guillotte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The final installment in Farrell's "Empire Trilogy" is just as engaging, funny, strange and tragic. Set during the impending Japanese invasion of Singapore during WWII, Farrell highlights how the different classes perceive the events washing over them.
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James Gordon Farrell, known as J.G. Farrell, was a Liverpool-born novelist of Irish descent. Farrell gained prominence for his historical fiction, most notably his Empire Trilogy (Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip), dealing with the political and human consequences of British colonial rule. The Siege of Krishnapur won the 1973 Booker Prize. On 19 May 2010 it was announced th ...more
More about J.G. Farrell...

Other Books in the Series

Empire Trilogy (4 books)
  • Troubles
  • The Siege of Krishnapur
  • The Empire Trilogy: The Siege of Krishnapur, Troubles, and The Singapore Grip

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“It seems that’s there a ghastly Darwinian principle of economics known as the Law of Substitution which declares, more or less, that “the cheapest will survive”. This has all sorts of unpleasant consequences, one of which is that non-economic values tend to be eliminated.” 1 likes
“I read somewhere that the boatman who rowed King William back across the river after the Battle of the Boyne is supposed to have asked the King which side won … To which the King replied: “What’s it to you? You’ll still be a boatman.” 0 likes
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