Decades ago I read J.G. Farrell’s Booker Prize–winning novel The Siege of Krishnapur, set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, at the recommendation of a friend. I liked it, but wasn’t moved to read other books of Farrell’s. Recently, another friend mentioned that he was reading The Singapore Grip, the last volume in the author’s so-called Empire Trilogy. (The first, Troubles, is set in Ireland in 1919.) That was enough to pique my interest. Fortunately, The Singapore Grip, first published in 1978, is now available in a New York Review of Books paperback.

I enjoyed The Singapore Grip immensely, more than I was expecting to. Like The Siege of Krishnapur, it’s about the impact of war on a group of English people, mostly civilians, in a foreign place. The upper-class characters, notably rubber baron Walter Blackett and his family, go about their routines in the period leading up to Japan’s entry into World War II and the subsequent attack on Singapore in early 1942, oblivious to impending doom. Perhaps it’s a bit unrealistic that they show so little concern about the war in Europe, and some readers may get impatient with all the detail about the rubber business, but these are quibbles. I savored the leisurely pace of this well-researched portrait of a society in decline, as well as its dry wit and the occasional sexy bit. I cared about the Blacketts and their friends and what happens to them after the Japanese conquer the island, though the story essentially ends with the British surrender.

I expect I won’t wait decades before reading Troubles.