If you were to select a subject for a droll and howlingly funny novel, it is doubtful that the fall of Singapore would be high on your list. Nevertheless, that's what you have here! The action centers on the British expat community who, intent on their usual trivial rounds of partying and copulating, are completely oblivious to the fact that the Japs are inexorably creeping down the Malay Peninsula. The novel properly darkens in tone as the city's situation becomes obviously desperate, but it maintains its ironic tone throughout. The result is an absolute masterpiece, and I don't use that term lightly.
The UK's History Learning web site does a marvelous job of sound biting World War II and offers these quotes about the fall of Singapore:
"Once the Japanese expanded throughout the region after Pearl Harbour (December 1941), many in Britain felt that Singapore would become an obvious target for the Japanese. However, the British military command in Singapore was confident that the power they could call on there would make any Japanese attack useless. One story told about the attitude of the British Army in Singapore was of a young Army officer complaining that the newly completed defences in Singapore might put off the Japanese from landing there.
"'I do hope we are not getting too strong in Malaya because if so the Japanese may never attempt a landing.'
"British troops stationed in Singapore were also told that the Japanese troops were poor fighters; alright against soldiers in China who were poor fighters themselves, but of little use against the might of the British Army.
"The Japanese onslaught through the Malay Peninsula took everybody by surprise. Speed was of the essence for the Japanese, never allowing the British forces time to re-group. This was the first time British forces had come up against a full-scale attack by the Japanese. Any thoughts of the Japanese fighting a conventional form of war were soon shattered. The British had confidently predicted that the Japanese would attack from the sea. This explained why all the defences on Singapore pointed out to sea. It was inconceivable to British military planners that the island could be attacked any other way - least of all, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula. But this was exactly the route the Japanese took." ...
"For the British military command in Singapore, war was still fought by the `rule book'. Social life was important in Singapore and the Raffles Hotel and Singapore Club were important social centres frequented by officers. An air of complacency had built in regarding how strong Singapore was - especially if it was attacked by the Japanese. When the Japanese did land at Kota Bharu aerodrome, in Malaya, Singapore's governor, Sir Shenton Thomas is alleged to have said 'Well, I suppose you'll (the army) shove the little men off.'"
James Gordon Farrell makes the gross hubris of the British Empire never more clear than in The Singapore Grip, published in 1978, as the third of the "Empire Trilogy". This trilogy should be read in its entirety, but each novel stands on its own. The theme of all three is the time before a major change in the British Empire. Troubles focuses on Ireland, Krishnapur on India and Singapore the British Pacific Empire at the beginning of World War II. J. G. Farrell was born on 23 January 1935 and died on either 11 or 12 August 1979. He was both an Irish and British writer of historical novels. These are his most famous novels with The Siege of Krishnapur winning the 1973 Booker Prize. Farrell died while fishing when a freak wave, the result of the same storm which killed 17 people in the 1979 Fastnet race disaster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_Fastnet_race), washed him out to sea.
The book takes the reader through the society of Singapore as the Japanese attack down the Malay Peninsula. The hubris of the officers, civilian leaders, wealthy merchants and the "man on the street" is criminal. But, the book is well written, well conceived and a fantastic read. Of the three, this on is my favorite. Read the Singapore Grip - and discover the phrase's three meanings. You will not be disappointed.