Kirkus Star


Email this review


The late Paul Scott's readership (The Raj Quartet) should welcome this fanciful yet raspingly valid account of the fall of Singapore to Japan in 1942. Like Scott, Farrell, author of The Siege of Krishnapur (1974), writes with unhurried, meticulous care, peering at length into a moment--or an economic or military phenomenon--before ambling on to the next. And Farrell, too, contemplates mass injustice or agony through a handful of persons who themselves are unwitting instruments of causes and cruel effects. As the Japanese bombing and shelling accelerate--the War is an entity riding high, as if not under human control--Singapore's people mill and scatter, and those who've watched their last boat pull out drift idly, propelled into the vortex. Among the flotsam propelled by the times: Walter Blackett, of Blackett and Webb Trading Co., a monument to corporate self-interest: Walter's weak son and mean-spirited daughter (""a sleek sloop with a mad captain""); a passel of military men (stolidly marching straight up into cloudy indecision); the Major, a truly good and civil man; his friend, a world-worn French cynic; wretched soldiers (Japanese and British); a love-struck American; a lovely Eurasian; and Matthew, a bumbling idealist who's like a dusty, tipsy version of Tolstoy's Pierre. Farrell, however, unlike Scott, handles irony like a broadsword, and has created exotic configurations in Armageddon's chaos: a spent fire brigade blearily watches the soothing inanities of The Ziegfield Girl while bombs roar; the Major translates fine points of international debate into pidgin for his friends ("". . . League idea all-same plenty fine motor-car buggerup. . .""); and there's a farcical fiasco in the embalming of a deceased Captain of Industry. The tension of the final days mounts until Farrell simply snaps the thread of lives lived willy-nilly in a random wave of history. A moving and stirring work, a beautiful book.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1979
Publisher: Knopf