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The Siege of Krishnapur (1973)

by J. G. Farrell

Series: Empire Trilogy (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,851616,843 (4.03)481
"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. 80
    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
    Burmese Days by George Orwell (lmichet, Philosofiction)
    lmichet: Another work of biting commentary about the British in India
  3. 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.
  4. 30
    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. 20
    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 481 mentions

English (60)  Dutch (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
The British and mixed-race inhabitants of the fictitious town of Krishnapur are beseiged by the sepoys and their allies in 1857.

It didn't quite go in the direction I was expecting it to but it was interesting as an account of life under siege. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Jun 29, 2021 |
I'm reading all the Booker Prize winners this year. Follow along at www.methodtohermadness.com

J. G. Farrell was the first writer to win two Booker Prizes. He won the third one in 1970 for Troubles, and the sixth in 1973 for The Siege of Krishnapur. Both books are intimate accounts in the form of a microcosm that depicts British colonialism. Troubles takes place in a decrepit English-owned resort hotel in Ireland, while Krishnapur takes place in a “residency” owned by a British trade company at the beginning of India’s own troubles, and is based on actual people and events. Both stories throw strangers together in a siege situation in order to ridicule the notion that the British way is inherently better than the ways of its colonies.

In both the Hotel Majestic and the Residency, the walls literally crumble around the characters, who still absurdly manage to believe themselves better than their “inferiors.” Here, the microcosm is composed of The Magistrate, an atheist and rationalist; Fleury, the aptly named Romantic poet who believes that the most important aspect of religion is feeling; and The Collector, chief of the Residency and self-described “whole” man; as well as a priest, a military man, and two doctors opposed in their methods. Louise, Lucy, and Miriam fill the roles of virgin, whore, and Modern Woman.

The irony is introduced early on, as we find that the British are thriving due to their exports of opium to China – while they spread The Gospel in Asia. The Collector, the Magistrate, and Fleury all believe themselves to be men of ideas – until they are forced by siege-induced famine to daydream of food. Civilization at first seems to mean respecting others’ religions, but then necessity drives the besieged to tear down a mosque. Finally, all must question whether civilization is truly a source of progress, or simply a sign of decay, as all of their fine European belongings are sacrificed to reinforce the ineffectual mud ramparts. The Indian soil literally swallows up all the material things that its oppressors hold dear.

The dueling doctors show that the “superior” British civilization has its own superstitions and blind spots. The two physicians wage a war of ideas over cholera: one has grasped the modern notion that cholera is transmitted through contaminated water, and that the disease can be treated through rehydration. The other clings to the outdated notion that cholera is caught from the air, and can be treated with mustard and brandy. In a moment that had me mentally screaming “No!” the second doctor drinks a bottle of dirty water to prove his point. You can guess the outcome.

More than one of the main characters undergoes a shift in perspective thanks to their ordeal. One of the most enlightened, The Collector, even questions his ideas about the natural inferiority of women, and wonders what he is missing about Indian religion, but never goes so far as to respect the natives.

I enjoyed both books. There is a dry, black, absurdist humor to both, but especially Krishnapur. The bathos of the English aristocracy reduced to sucking on horsehide and shooting pieces of statuary out of their cannons brings home Farrell’s point with wry wit. If I had to choose one, it would be Krishnapur: it is wittier and more action-packed, as well as shorter. But I recommend both for their brutal post-colonial honesty. ( )
  stephkaye | Dec 14, 2020 |
The Siege of Krishnapur is historical fiction operating on a number of different levels. At its most basic the novel describes the sepoy rebellion against the British in India in 1857. If this was all the novel was I would qualify it as excellent. From the beginning when the Collector, the head of the Krishnapur outpost, tries to convince others of the forthcoming revolt, you are pulled into the middle of events that move forward quickly. You watch as the Collector attempts to respond, manage and adapt in order to protect lives, including his own daughters. The Collector seems at times cold and calculating and at other times empathetic and humane. He is struggling with the conflicting motivations, variables and possible outcomes often faced by a leader in a crisis. His decisions and actions are strategic and timely, while the actions of many of his officers are heroic.

Along with the historical events we get the description and subtle critique of British colonialism, British culture, and the impact of that culture and its underlying principles on India. Effectively, we get to see how the efforts of the British create only the thinest of veneers over the cultural depths of India, ultimately making few permanent changes. We also observe contrasting changes in individuals, as one advocate of the focus of British culture on "things" comes to understand the limited value of things and possessions in changing anything for the natives of a British colony; while another character who initially finds no value in possessions and material goals but sees real value in feelings and spirit converts over time to the traditional British focus on acquisition and ownership, losing sight of his original vision.

An extremely well-written novel with excellent pacing and characters who change significantly in response to the events and experiences in the novel. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
I need to preface this review by stating that the conclusion of The Siege of Krishnapur is one of most powerful bits of writing I’ve ever read. I found it oddly moving and deeply affecting. Part Four of this novel forced me to go back and reconsider all of my opinions about the rest of the book. It was almost enough to cause me to write a very different review than what follows.

Of course, the relevant word in that sentence is “almost”...

I had some real trouble getting into this book. It didn’t manage to fully engage me until I was several pages into Part Two – and that's just because I like a good war story. Getting through Part One was a chore. At least Parts Two & Three read quickly.

I think I may be the only person who likes Farrell’s novel Troubles better than this one.

Which is strange when you consider how incredibly well written The Siege of Krishnapur is! I completely understand why it won the Booker. It’s a wonderfully accomplished work! In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s better written than Troubles. Or, maybe more accurately, the contrast between the two novels illustrates what a talented writer Farrell really is. The style, tone, and atmosphere of each is so different! It always impresses me when a writer can command such various authorial voices to great effect.

I think the best way to explain my problem with Siege is to cite one of the reviews from the dust jacket on the copy I read:

“A suggestion made by T. S. Eliot, about the possibility of constructing a work of art on two levels with very different kinds of appeal, has been brilliantly used in The Siege of Krishnapur.” – Julian Symons, The Sunday Times

This novel is absolutely masterful on one level – it’s a brilliant critique of Victorian attitudes and culture during the autumn years of the British Empire. It’s subtle, incisive, unmerciful, and historically apt – just the way I like my satire!

Where it fails for me is on the other level, the level of story. I never cared about any of the characters. I understand that their function is to embody the worldview and culture being criticized – but there’s a fine line between using characters as negative examples and making them largely unsympathetic. Exemplars of the Culture they may be – but they still have to be people living in the world. They still need to function as characters in the story.

I liked Miriam – she seems like the kind of woman who will shortly get the Suffrage Movement underway – but so little of the story is told from her point of view. I suppose the Collector is the most sympathetic character, as he’s the only one who comes to question his previously held imperialistic view of India, as well as his faith in Science and Progress, to any great extent – but he’s still an overbearing, misogynistic, Victorian patriarch. I found the characters in this novel pathetic. I spent the entire book wanting to slap them.

Which is a good thing, insofar as it's a testament to the ultimate effectiveness of Farrell’s cultural criticism – but it didn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience. Victorian attitudes and the culture of British Imperialism have always offended me on a deeply personal level. I don't like spending this much time immersed in them, even if it is in the service of satire. ( )
  johnthelibrarian | Aug 11, 2020 |
Later, while he was drinking tea at the table in his bedroom with three young subalterns from Captainganj a succession of musket balls came through the winder, attracted by the oil-lamp . . . one, two, three and then a fourth, one after another. The officers dived smartly under the table, leaving the Collector to drink his tea alone. After a while they
re-emerged smiling sheepishly, deeply impressed by the Collector’s sang-froid. Realizing that he had forgotten to sweeten his tea, the Collector dipped a teaspoon into the sugar-bowl. But then he found that he was unable to keep the sugar on the spoon: as quickly as he scooped it up, it danced off again. It was clear that he would never get it from the sugar-bowl to the cup without scattering it over the table, so in the end he was obliged to push the sugar away and drink his tea unsweetened.

The Siege of Krishnapur sounded fascinating - a depiction of the fall of the British Empire illustrated in a small town in Northern India.

I don't know whether this book fell victim to my reading slump, or whether it just missed the mark with me, but I could not get interested in any of the characters or the story, and on finishing, I don't even know whether I would have finished it at all if it had not won the Booker in 1973.

It seems to me that The Siege of Krishnapur is one of those books that may have made more of an impression at the time it was written, but that has lost some of its appeal over time. Maybe the expectation of the book is to defy any nostalgia towards imperialism in its reader. But what if there is nothing to left to defy?

I don't know. This book maybe just wasn't for me. ( )
1 vote BrokenTune | Jul 14, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (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)
 
1974-09-30

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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"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.

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2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 159017092X, 1590173732

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