26 thoughts on “Review: The Siege of Krishnapur, J.G. Farrell

  1. I have always wondered whether this was one of those underrated classics.Well, now I know! It’s very difficult to relate to a book that only depicts events from the point of view of one country (especially if I happen to be a native of the country not shown :)).

    I have read so many books on Waterloo for example (all British-oriented narratives), I m curious how the French feel when they read books like that!

    I also should seriously try some Mary Renault.

    • I may have put that badly about the point of view. It’s shown from the British point of view, but not in the sense that you only have sympathy with them. They are individually unsympathetic, and collectively even more so. My introduction said that Farrell didn’t feel comfortable writing Indian characters, as a British dude himself, which I can understand.

      Yes, you should try Mary Renault. Tomorrow. She’s so great. 😀

  2. I love the line “The same quirks of character that entertained me so much at the outset were driving me crazy as I got closer to finishing.” – I find that is so true with people you know, too!!!

  3. I also really like to read about colonization and agree with you one the preference for India. I would also love to visit there some day, but don’t know if it will happen. I really liked this review, and can understand how the characters and their plights were initially absorbing, but then grew tiresome. I am also always excited to when I see you have a new post up because you read the most amazing books!

    • Well, I don’t know if it will happen for me either. Money and time off are always going to be a factor. However, my awesome friend whose family is from India says she will go with me someday. 😀

      (Also, you are nice. I’m always pleased to see new posts from you too!)

  4. Awww… I love you too! 🙂 I always earmarked this one to read, but glad you review it, not sure if that’s urgent to read anything written by JG Farrell. 😉

    • Yeah, it’s not urgent. There’s a blogger, Lu of Regular Rumination, who rates her books by how soon you should read them. I’d make this one “Next month”, probably. :p

  5. Ya know, you just made me google Mary Renault because her name was familiar but my cold addled brain couldn’t figure out why. Ancient Greece! She needs to go on my list.

    • Ancient Greece! She’s amazing! She writes so beautifully and vividly. Her books about Alexander are wonderful, and her books about Theseus are pretty amazing too. They make the myth seem perfectly plausible. It’s neat.

  6. Jenny: loved your review, even though I’d rate both Farrell and Siege a bit higher (admittedly, Siege is my least favorite of his three in print novels; I enjoyed Troubles a great deal more). Farrell is one of my currently favorite authors (His early death was tragic–wonder what else he might have written, if he had lived longer?). Do you ever check out the London Review? The December edition contained quite an interesting review of “J.G. Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries”, which gave an a nice overview of both Farrell’s life and work.

    Like you, I adore Mary Renault. Thanks for the reminder of just how good she is–I’m now inspired to re-read. By the way, did you list The Charioteer as one of your favorite books somewhere or other on your blog? I think this one of her novels tends to get over-looked among her other great offerings, perhaps because of the setting (WWII Britain) is atypical for her. I’ve read it several times and when I do so I marvel anew at the quality of the writing and the depth of her psychological insight. I also notice, each time I read it, yet another marvellous and subtle detail.

    • Troubles is better, you say? Okay, well, when I try again with Farrell, and I probably will because he made me smile and I like colonial encounters stories, I’ll try Troubles.

      I love The Charioteer so, so, so much. So few people have read it! I tried to make my mother and sister read it, and they both thought it was boring. Very sad for me. I’m glad you liked it too! It’s probably my favorite Renault book, in spite of the not-nice way she portrays effeminate men. The writing is so beautiful and the subtext so gorgeously tense.

  7. This sounds like something I might enjoy. What’s not to like about a novel that pokes fun at people’s outrageous pretensions? Though I can see why your enjoyment of these quirks would wear thin before the end of the book. 🙂

    • But that may be just me, and may definitely have something to do with the fact that the plot wasn’t very exciting. You’d think a book about a battle would be interesting! Alas, no. So I had to put all my eggs in the character-development basket, and that didn’t work out for me.

  8. Your gratitude to past Jenny amused me because I’m often saying things like “good job past self” with a sort of pleased surprise that I actually managed to be prescient about something.

    • Me too! All the time! I am always trying to think of ways to save myself time and effort and misery later on, and it’s lovely when one of my schemes pans out. :p

  9. ‘The Siege of Krishnapur’ is on my to be read list, but goodness knows when I’ll get round to it! I do enjoy books set in British-era India – have you read any of M. M. Kaye’s historicals? ‘The Far Pavilions’ is her famous one, but I prefer ‘Shadow of the Moon’.

  10. Well, I loved this one all the way through, although I recognize the validity of your point on the lack of character growth.

    Now I need to get cracking and write my review, to explain myself further.

  11. Interesting review, Jenny! Have you read ‘Nighrunners of Bengal’ by John Masters? It is also set during the 1857 rebellion. Also have you read ‘One Last Look’ by Susanna Moore? This is set during a period before the 1857 rebellion and is a novel based on real events and the main character is transformed considerably by her experience of India.

  12. I have to disagree with much of your review. First, is it fair to criticize a book for not being the book you think it should have been? You could write that book.

    This refers of course to the claim that the book is “almost solely through the eyes of the Europeans.” Not really true in any case. The attitudes of the Indians comes thru strongly on virtually every page. Not explicitly, but certainly by indirection. This is, after all, literature.

    I do not understand why you would say that “The critique of empire and its creations was there throughout, but it didn’t deepen over the course of the book.” I saw level after level revealed as the siege progressed. It was almost as if I were watching an archeological excavation. By the end the critique of Empire was utterly devastating.

    Finally, I was stunned by your assertion that “Mary Renault, and not J.G. Farrell, should have won the Lost Booker Prize. J.G. Farrell already won one! And I haven’t read Troubles, the winner of the Lost Booker Prize, but I have read The Siege of Krishnapur, and I’ve read Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven, and I thought Fire from Heaven was better.”

    Geez! What does whether Farrell has already won a Booker have anything to do with whether Troubles was the best of 1970?! Has critical judgment become a thing of fairness rather than quality? And how can you compare Fire to Siege and conclude that Fire is better than Troubles, which you have not even read? I don’t understand any of this.

    You owe your readers better.

    • Goodness, you read my post as being very critical — more critical, in fact, than I think it actually was. What bothered me about the book was that Farrell sets out with a particular cast of characters, and a particular view of empire, and neither the characters nor the critique develop over the course of the book. The characters were funny and pathetic and exquisitively well-drawn, but they were the same people on the last page as on the first. Better character development would have made it a stronger book, in my opinion.

      I did and do think that the critique of empire fails to deepen over the course of the book. Devastating, yes, but it didn’t feel layered to me, the way it did to you. I expect that’s just a function of our being different readers and bringing different things to the book.

      The Mary Renault paragraph was a joke (mostly a joke — kidding on the square, I believe they call it?). I signaled it as a joke by introducing it with jokey italics. It had occurred to me, as I was writing the post, that my mild resentment of Farrell for winning over Mary Renault might have given me a subconscious bias against The Siege of Krishnapur as I was reading it. So I was poking fun at myself for that. The point of the joke was (a) to disclose this bias that may have colored my reading of Siege; and (b) to highlight the absurdity of the bias by phrasing its disclosure in a way that played up how utterly ill-founded it was.

      (I realize you are probably sitting there thinking, That’s not funny at all!, which, yes, it wasn’t that funny to start with, and now that I’ve explained it really painstakingly, it is zero funny. But it was a little bit funny when I did it.)

  13. Well, Jenny, as I look back on my comment, I see it as sterner than I intended or felt. So I apologize for that.

    I did recognize your putting “absolutely nothing” in italics sent a message, but I thought, and still think, that the message was/is that you were signaling – not that the following comment was tongue in cheek and humorous – but that you were serious. That, at least, is what I would mean by such syntax. In that reading the humor would be that the reader should reverse the meaning of the phrase. Then, by continuing along that line with,

    “And I haven’t read Troubles, the winner of the Lost Booker Prize, but I have read The Siege of Krishnapur, and I’ve read Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven, and I thought Fire from Heaven was better,”

    you reinforce the reader’s conclusion (confusion?) that you are in fact serious, and that my interpretation is corroborated. I read and re-read that paragraph looking for evidence that I was wrong in my understanding. I’m sorry for getting it wrong nonetheless.

    Without getting into why I think the critique deepened over the course of the book – for a devastating statement see the final chapter eg – I do think the critique was deep, which is the important thing.

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