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The Siege of Krishnapur (1973)

by J. G. Farrell

Series: Empire Trilogy (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,782566,596 (4.04)468
"India, 1857 - the year of the Great Mutiny, when Muslim soldiers turned in bloody rebellion on their British overlords. This time of convulsion is the subject of J. G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, widely considered one of the finest British novels of the last fifty years." "Farrell's story is set in an isolated Victorian outpost on the subcontinent. Rumors of strife filter in from afar, and yet the members of the colonial community remain confident of their military and, above all, moral superiority. But when they find themselves under actual siege, the true character of their dominion - at once brutal, blundering, and wistful - is soon revealed." "The Siege of Krishnapur is a companion to Troubles, about the Easter 1916 rebellion in Ireland, and The Singapore Grip, which takes place just before World War II, as the sun begins to set upon the British Empire. Together these three novels offer a picture of the follies of empire."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
  1. 70
    The Singapore Grip by J. G. Farrell (kidzdoc)
    kidzdoc: The third novel in Farrell's Empire Trilogy, which is about the fall of the British Empire in 1930s Singapore.
  2. 60
    Troubles by J. G. Farrell (kidzdoc)
    kidzdoc: The first novel in Farrell's Empire Trilogy, which was awarded the Lost Man Booker Prize for the best novel of 1970.
  3. 50
    Burmese Days by George Orwell (lmichet, Philosofiction)
    lmichet: Another work of biting commentary about the British in India
  4. 20
    The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott (Cecrow)
  5. 20
    Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (terrazoon)
    terrazoon: Good satires are hard to find. Although the subject matter is different, if you like one you will probably like the other.
  6. 10
    English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (Rynooo)
    Rynooo: English Passengers is an awesome work of historical fiction - it is by turns hilarious, shocking and thought provoking.
  7. 00
    The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye (mcenroeucsb)
  8. 12
    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (chrisschoeters)
    chrisschoeters: Beautiful, amazingly simple but emotionally complex. I would recommend this book to alle readers older than 14!

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» See also 468 mentions

English (54)  Dutch (1)  All languages (55)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
My main admiration for this novel is that it managed to be both masterfully written and really awful at the same time.

Farrell makes his British characters pay and pay and pay for the crimes of colonization, in brutally absurd scenes. Characters are spared no degradation and yet they never lose their bone-headed, obstinate British-ness, or the certainty of their superiority. Ha, ha.

This novel's peculiar balance between: 1) "wow, this is written so well" with 2) "my god, this is making me sick" kept me reading until the end, in a rubber-necky sort of way. I was still reading with sick fascination when I came to a scene near the end when a besieged British subject confronts his enemy and kills him after a series of silly false starts--jammed guns, knives too tightly wrapped in his cummerbund to pull out when he needs them, the discovery of some handy violin strings--and he then manages to blow his enemy away so completely that only a pair of legs is left standing. Like all the other scenes in this novel, this scene is so breathtakingly well-written, and so awful.

I feel a little sick. I've discovered I don't enjoy reading cartoon scenes about a tragic historical event when many people died. I'm sure this worked better at the time when it was written, in 1973. Indeed the feeling I got from it reminded me a great deal of how I felt after consuming another masterpiece of that era, Fellini's Satyricon. ( )
  poingu | Feb 22, 2020 |
This is a novel of change. Set in 1857 and based on the Siege of Lucknow, at a far remote Indian outpost, many miles from Calcutta, it tells the story of the mutiny of the native sepoys but more importantly, solidifies the total ignorance of the British in thinking their superiority over all things, but especially over these Indians that they are determined to educate in one way or another, will always prevail. Farrell has written an incredibly nuanced satire that points out how wrong the British were, even a year before Queen Victoria signed a proclamation formally naming India a part of the British Empire. At the time of the siege, The East India Company was ruling India with a violent hand implemented by the British military.

There are few named Indian characters in a story where they are the main object and somehow this method is part of Farrell’s brilliance. The British treat them with so little respect that they are nearly invisible. Until they’re not and the British are forced to confront the reality of the state of their lives during the five months that the siege lasts. Besides the obvious bodies piling up as a result of the shelling of the Residency, where all the British are forced to retreat, they are fighting an outbreak of cholera, the intense heat common in the sub continent, intense insect infestations to the area and this:

"The smell, which was so atrocious that the butchers had to work with cloths tied over their noses, came from rejected offal which they were in the habit of throwing over the wall in the hope that the vultures would deal with it. But the truth was that the scavengers of the district, both birds and animals, were already thoroughly bloated from the results of the first attack…the birds were so heavy with meat that they could hardly launch themselves into the air, the jackals could hardly drag themselves back to their lairs."

Loaded with complex characters whose interaction provide thought-provoking narrative conflict, they wait for the arrival of the saving military regiment but steadily lose hope that they will ever be rescued. This book won the Booker prize in 1973 and rightly so. Just absolutely brilliant. ( )
4 vote brenzi | Aug 27, 2019 |
This is the second book in Farrell's trio of novels exploring the crumbling British Empire. The first was Troubles set in 1916 Ireland and I LOVED it. This book, however, didn't work for me for some reason. It is set in India during an uprising of the locals that traps many British. I liked the set up and ideas in the book but I could not connect to any of the characters and I was generally sort of bored. In fact, I dropped the bookmark out of the book about 2/3 through and could not for the life of me figure out where I had been reading.

I suspect this will upset a lot of people because I feel like I remember seeing many glowing reviews of this book, so don't give up on reading this if you were interested. It was probably just the wrong book for my crazy life right now. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Jul 5, 2019 |
Wow This is a really great book even though it won the Booker prize. It's quite funny and awful, scathing and jaunty. The best part for me is it's engrossing. ( )
1 vote soraxtm | Jun 18, 2019 |
I'm throwing in the towel for now. I skimmed the first few chapters again and while I can see what Farrell is doing, it's not working for me.

I feel like I'm reading Austen after Jo Baker wrote Longbourn or something. It's not the case that there are no (or only a couple) Indian characters. The Indians are everywhere, because otherwise the British couldn't put one foot in front of the other. It's that they are all in the background, mostly voiceless. If I had read this when it came out, or even in the 1980s, when I was grateful for any talented author writing about imperialism in a thoughtful way, I'm sure I would have loved it. But I'm reading it through a 2019 lens that I can't seem to put aside.

Given I own this in two formats, I'm sure I'll come back to it at some point. Maybe after I've read Troubles and have a better handle on Farrell's overall approach and style.
  Sunita_p | May 17, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Farrell is the funniest novelist in English since Evelyn Waugh, with the same eye for the absurd as Tom Sharpe. This is the fictitious account, hilarious and horrifying by turns, of a besieged British garrison which held out for four months in the summer of 1857, the year of the Great Indian Mutiny, against a horde of native Sepoys. Despite the omens, the young British cavalry officers continue to indulge their taste for galloping into the nearest memsahib's drawing room, jumping over the sofas and then filling their sola topis with champagne instead of water to quench their horses' thirst. It is left to the Governor of Krishnapur, a sensitive, cultured man with a collection of treasures in his residence, to prepare for the siege. By the end of it cholera, starvation and the Sepoys have done for most of the inhabitants, who are reduced to eating beetles and, in the absence of powder and shot, loading their cannons with monogrammed silver cutlery and false teeth. The final retreat of the British, still doggedly stiff-upper-lipped, through the pantries, laundries, music rooms and ballroom of the residency, using chandeliers and violins as weapons, is a comic delight. And so is the usually serious Tim Pigott-Smith, whose repertoire of characters, from petulant maharajas to pink-faced subalterns - "I say, may we come in, we've come to relieve you" - is dazzling.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Sue Arnold (Sep 24, 2005)

Farrell can write with a fury to match his theme. As spectacle, The Siege of Krishnapur has the blaze and the agony of a scenario for hell. But as moral commentary, it is overcalculated—and its ironies unsuitably neat.
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Anyone who has never before reached Krishnapur, and who approaches from the east, is likely to think that he has reached the end of his journey a few miles sooner than he expected.
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Average: (4.04)
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2 12
2.5 4
3 51
3.5 21
4 120
4.5 32
5 107

NYRB Classics

2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 159017092X, 1590173732

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