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The Singapore Grip

(Empire Trilogy #3)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,182 ratings  ·  179 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, 584 pages
Published January 31st 2005 by NYRB Classics (first published 1978)
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3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,182 ratings  ·  179 reviews

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Megan Baxter
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement.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
Roger Brunyate
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia-pacific, 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 inven
Molly Ison
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
James Murphy
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
I enjoyed this epic, richly detailed and humorous reimagining of the fall of Singapore hugely. Since reading it I can't see a mangy dog without being reminded of "The Human Condition". This one might be a bit daunting as an introduction to Farrell - Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur are easier reads, but it is fully deserving of its place among my favourites. Nobody escapes the savage satire.
J.M. Hushour
Feb 17, 2019 rated it liked it
"War is only a passing phase in business life."

"Grip" is an uneven and frustrating novel. About 3/5 of it is complete genius, the rest does for literature what the Jonestown Kool-Aid did for kids' drinks. Oh yeah!
"The Singapore Grip" itself refers to a particular, ah, talent that certain Singaporean immigrant prostitutes have. It could also refer to and often does to the similar whorish grip that fat, greasy British, French, and Dutch capitalist hold over Singapore itself on the literal eve of t
Mark Joyce
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
At the middlebrow fiction level I reckon an author’s level of enthusiasm is one of the big differentiators between a good, average and bad book. On that criteria alone, The Singapore Grip would be a shoo-in five star. As with the first two books in this trilogy, JG Farrell’s vigorous interest in the final days of the British empire is infectious and the atmosphere is powerfully and movingly evoked. This carried me along despite quite a few sections of long-winded exposition and tediously rendere ...more
Jun 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story revolves around the siege and subsequent fall of Singapore at the beginning of World War II. These events unfold from the perspective of a the proprietors of a traditional trading company in rubber, rice, and other Eastern products, and their extended family and acquaintances.

Walter, leader of Blackett & Webb, the same company mentioned above, is a known figure on the tiny island, a vague marshland founded for the sole purpose of the security and extended prosperity of British inte
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 rated it really liked it
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
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, comedy, history
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
Jan 07, 2013 added it
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
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
I so badly wanted to love this novel about the last days of the British hold on Singapore and how they got their comeuppance when it fell to the Japanese during WWII. After all, I adored “Troubles”, followed by “The Siege of Krishnapur”, which form the first two parts of the Empire Trilogy, though the three books can be read in any order as their only common feature is British Colonialism and its failings. I found here much of what I’ve come to love about J.G. Farrell; highly original individual ...more
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
Farrell is a brilliant writer, and this is the third of his trilogy concerning the decline of the British Empire. He has a luscious writing style and he juxtaposes serious situations with peculiar British mannerisms to hilarious results. All three of these novels are set in situations of significant violence and danger, yet the steadfast British proceed with stuffy propriety, virtually oblivious to the crumbling world about them, while focused on matters of consummate insignificance. His charact ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2018
Farrell is a master. The entire Empire Trilogy is marvelous, and I'd hate to have to choose from among them. It's possible there are a few more quibbles here, a few more places where the many narrative threads are just a little too dangling and frayed, but the grand melancholy and openness of the denouement sweeps away any lingering impatience.

I recommend reading them in the order they were written and published (Troubles, then The Siege of Krishnapur, then this one). I took a long, long break b
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
J. G. Farrell published three marvelous books (known as the Empire Trilogy) in the 1970s on very different aspects of the British colonial experience. Had he not been tragically swept to his death at 44 in the Irish Sea by a storm wave, he would probably be much better known.
There is a strong admixture of satire and irony in his treatment of his chosen times and places but it is not outright mockery at the expense of detailed consideration of the moral, economic and political issues of each.
As t
Joyce Lagow
Apr 20, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Gwen Johnson
The Singapore Grip is a good read, but a long long read (and because I read it on Kindle, I couldn't tell how long it was). What I loved best was the satirical portrayal of the colonials and their total lack of understanding of the culture around them. I also loved the potted but very descriptive history of Singapore's downfall in WWII - I knew only vague bits about it, but now have the visual images created by the author, as well as the facts about the Japanese invasion.

My ADD does, however, a
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
A beast of a book(!!!), but worth the read. A strong finish to Farrell’s “Empire Trilogy.”
The Singapore Grip was the last novel J. G. Farrell completed before his untimely death, and the third in a loosely interconnected trilogy about the long, slow decline of British empire. It was released in 1978, some five years after he won the Booker prize for The Siege of Krishnapur; and while he might have used his prizewinning speech as an opportunity for some caustic remarks about the sponsors, he cites his winnings in the acknowledgements here as enabling the completion of this monumental ...more
Seth Reeves
Nov 18, 2014 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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NYRB Classics: The Singapore Grip, by J.G. Farrell 3 9 Oct 30, 2013 07:28PM  

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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

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
“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.” 1 likes
“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
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