The Siege of Krishnapur

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I finally finished JG Farrell‘s The Siege of Krishnapur. It’s the sixth Man Booker Prize Winner, Farrell’s second, and it’s taken me an age to complete.

The second of Farrell’s Empire Trilogy tells the fictional tale of a 4-month long siege, with the Indian-born members of the British army rebelling against their colonial overlords. The story focusses on the plight of a number of expat residents, gradually being forced to live under increasingly squalid conditions.

Having  read both this and his earlier novel, Troubles, it’s clear that Farrell was an exceptional writing talent. Krishnapur is a piece of work that, in the end, I enjoyed very much.

That said, it took me a while to get into, largely because I felt quite unsympathetic towards most of the protagonists. Gradually, though, characters like the Collector, the Magistrate, Fleury and the Dunstaples seemed to become parodies of the stiff-upper-lip Brit that no-one likes, to the extent that this harrowing tale was engaging and, at times, very funny indeed.

From the outset, Farrell shows most of his characters at their pompous worst, as they look down upon woman, Indians and anyone deemed not to be part of their “superior culture”.

Harry listened to her in frank disbelief. Girls had a habit, he knew, of distressing themselves over things which did not exist. It was something to do with their wombs, so a fellow-officer had once told him. No doubt Louise was suffering from this womb-anxiety, then.

But as the book progresses, a transformation occurs and they each become more likeable, and more human. Those that survive find that their health deteriorates quite dramatically, but they become hardened battlers, relying upon each other and finding a role to play in their survival.

The Residency that is their shelter during this period reflects their physical and mental well-being, and towards the end, these previously wealthy, upper-class characters are losing teeth, eating horse or dog meat, drastically losing weight, and generally falling apart.

Her cotton dress was rent almost from the armpit to the hem and as she leaned forward to bring a saucer of water to the lips of a wounded man, the Collector glimpsed three polished ribs and the shrunken globe of her breast.

It took me a while to get going with this, and I almost want to pick it up again and re-read at least the first half. I don’t think it’s as good as Troubles, but it’s a superb read, and I’m already looking forward to Farrell’s third Booker Prize entry, the closing book of the Empire trilogy, The Singapore Grip.

It seems that some kind of radio play exists of this. If anyone finds it, let me know.

Man Booker Prize Top 5

  1. Troubles
  2. The Elected Member
  3. The Siege of Krishnapur
  4. Something to Answer For
  5. G