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The Singapore Grip

Narrated by: Mike Grady
Length: 25 hrs and 19 mins
Categories: Literature & Fiction
4.6 out of 5 stars (58 ratings)

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Summary

A classic novel by a Booker Prize-winning author. 

Singapore just before the Japanese invasion in the Second World War: the Blackett family's prosperous world of tennis parties, cocktails and deferential servants seems unchanging. But it is poised on the edge of the abyss. This is the eve of the fall of Singapore and, as we know, of much else besides. 

Not only are the Blacketts caught up in the events - their friends, enemies and many individuals are, too. Singapore at this historical watershed has never been so faithfully and passionately re-created. 

©2010 J. G. Farrell (P)2018 Orion Publishing Group

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  • Overall
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Superb

This novel tells the stories of the disparate families and individuals caught up in the final days of Singapore before the Japanese invasion. The good are represented by the idealistic Matthew appaulled by how his inheritance has been amassed which gives Farrell an opportunity to explore colonial exploitation. Also the Major, another colonial washed up in Singapore but with a kind heart. The bad by Walter Blackett determined to shore up his company's interest with the help of his cunning daughter Joan. The ugly by the moustached, incompetent army chiefs. As Singapore collapses around them the rats flee the sinking ship but comeuppances are not forthcoming as the innocents and those without influence and money are left to their fate. As usual they suffer as they have always done while the privileged flee to safety. But this is not a doom laden listen. Farrell is witty and dry as we watch everyone scrabble around trying to make sense of the collapse of their worlds be they at the top or the bottom of the heap. There are laugh out loud moments but even such dramatic changes in their lives gives none but a few any real cause to reflect on the collapse except the ever introspective Matthew.

4 people found this helpful

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Challenging reading for our times.

Mr Farrell does not admire the English. In this wonderful book he gives a deeply detailed picture of several instantly recognisable English types and flatters none of them. Even the hero, the soft, idealistic blabbermouth Matthew Webb, is so unengaging that we feel when he is facing one of his many dilemmas and perils that the threatened outcome is perhaps no more than he deserves. This story encompasses the fall of Singapore, and if you have ever wondered how an army of not more than 40,000 Japanese drove more than 100,000 British before them down the Malay Peninsula, corralled them all in Singapore and accomplished their surrender in a few short days, this book makes it very clear that the reason lay in the British character. Muddled, driven by a blind belief in their natural superiority and constantly preoccupied with what others are thinking of them, they are totally outclassed by short, yellow men that they had written off from the get-go as no match for 'proper soldiers'. The only consolation that a British reader can draw from these pages is that at least the Aussies were worse, depicted here as a bunch of drunken outlaws deserted at the last by the cowardly commander (which actually happened, like pretty much everything else in the book) The Singapore Grip is gripping from start to finish. Only critique - the slightly leaden pace and poor Malay pronunciation of the narrator. Ironically this book provides a perfect understanding of the dire situation this country faces in 2020. After all, most of those leading us off the cliff right now went to the same schools as the fools who lost Singapore and those schools, and their ethos, have not changed one iota, still turning out the same class of privileged, muddled, often lazy Jingoistic fools.

2 people found this helpful

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Enthralling story and superbly narrated

Mike Grady does this fantastic book such rightous justice - his narration is superb; he affects such a wide range of voices for each character in the story (of which there are plenty) it has to be noted. The story is as you would expect from J.G. Farrell - a rich and detailed exploration of the idiosyncrasies of various interesting and inscrutable characters set against the colonial backdrop Farrell paints so well in his writing. I really enjoyed this book - the narration topped it all off and thus it was a great way to wrap up "the Empire trilogy" of whose first two books I had read rather than listened to.

2 people found this helpful

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Takes your breath away!

I think we’ve all heard of the tragedy of the fall of Singapore (at least those of us of a certain age who were spoon fed a lot of the ‘heroics’ of WW2 history) but with little regard for the truth. Luckily for me, before embarking on this JG Farrell book I’d (by chance) waded through quite a few of Max Hastings’ superb histories of all or parts of the Second World War, and so was well primed to expect bungling, miscalculation, internecine jealousies, incompetence, boastfulness and other British failings which led to ignominious defeat, rather than the cunning and successful derring-do we grew up on. So if you find yourself reeling in disbelief thinking, “That can’t possibly have happened,” or “Surely a General couldn’t be so dim/selfish,” just swallow your pride and believe it! JG Farrell’s great contribution has been filling in all the gaps of civilian life - the atmosphere of every corner of the island, the racial and social hierarchies, the food and drink (on an island dripping with fresh fruit, what gets served for dessert at an “upper class” dinner? Bread & butter pudding!), the smells, the living conditions, the insects, the sweat. Not a facet of Singapore life is omitted and you leave this book feeling you’ve lived and breathed the place! The major characters here, i.e. those who count, set the pace, deserve the fruits of their labour, sit inarguably at the top of the tree, are the “Europeans” - for which read “English”. The odd Frenchman or Dutchman can be tolerated as long as they acknowledge the misfortune of not being English. The irony is that none of this elite is “upper class” in its old-fashioned sense of blue blood and coronets: they’re all “trade”, men who have plundered the country’s national resources for sale overseas and then fixed laws & tariffs to ship sales back again of things like iron or woven cotton. The most prominently portrayed of this caste is the Blackett family and it’s hard to think of a single redeeming feature between them! Common staples are selfishness, greed, snobbishness, racism, intolerance, vanity, mendacity and, in the case of the elder daughter (“a beauty”), a streak of pure sadism. The son is work-shy, bullying, lewd, and makes no bones whatsoever about his attempts to become a draft dodger. Not content with trampling their inferiors underfoot, this loathsome family even manage to pick a decades’ long quarrel with a family of “equals” (the reason being terror that the other lot might be construed as richer or more successful than them), culminating with Blackett Senior tricking the other family into accepting his despicable daughter as a daughter-in-law. Another prominent character is Matthew, the only son of Blackett’s deceased business partner. Matthew’s heart’s in the right place - but in that idealistic, philosophising, dogmatic way that brooks no arguments, can rarely be translated into action and bores everyone else witless. He can analyse the evils of colonial capitalism, but can’t see the poverty under his eyes, or his part in it. Of course the book contains a host of other characters of various races and nationalities; the events they become involved in and their interactions are often laugh-out-loud funny - at least, scarcely a chapter goes by without a chuckle or two. At the beginning of this book we encounter Singapore almost in its hey-day: sure, guns can be heard and Japanese planes circle, but there is absolute faith in the superiority of Allied Forces and life for the European civilians goes on in its usual hedonistic way. The author takes us further afield from the “wedding cake” mansions, into alley-ways, street markets, halls, magic shows, tenements, brothels and other entertainments and while there’s no attempt to conceal poverty and squalor, the atmosphere remains cheerful and optimistic. The notion that war might be at everyone’s doorstep simply hasn’t dawned. All the more shocking, then, when within a few days the city centre is reduced to twisted iron and rubble, with little running water, electricity or food, and increasing crowds of homeless roaming the streets. This is where you see the contribution of the Blackett family and their ilk to the war effort! Refusing aid to the military, insisting on commandeering shipping for trade, refusing to shelter refugees (even white ones); then dashing around in their Bentleys knowing the right palms to grease to obtain visas and tickets and, ultimately, through sheer physical force (or that of their lackeys) thrusting themselves to the front of the boat queue, champagne corks a-popping. There ARE some decent characters in this book, of all nationalities, acting bravely and honourably and one shudders to think of their fate as opposed to that of their neighbours, carousing on a cruise to Australia or India. You’ll find out who they are if you read this fascinating book!

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Great balance of narrative and insight...

Back in turbulent Singapore an entwining tale of lives, perspectives and an insight into cultures, economic and military history.

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Highly recommended

Loved the story, easy to "get into", and it was beautifully narrated with excellent quality production. Moving on to my next J G Farrell.

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Top quality

I have also read the Booker Prize winning ‘Troubles’ by Farrell, and think this one to be even better! Such a well written close examination of the changes that occur on a personal level during a war. I enjoyed this very much.

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The Singapore Grip

Excellent story line, humorous and tragic.. Farrell's caracters give the human side of these historic events, but wish at the end he told us what happened to them all. Farrell has a good grasp of history and the reader has just the right intonation accent and voice. Thank you Audible.