I very much enjoyed this book for it is a multi layered tome. In part historical fiction and humour like George McDonald Fraser, and in parts like The Far Pavilions or A Passage to India, but mostly I liked the analogy for it reminded me of Paul Bunyan’s book The Battle for Man Soul.
Set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 a group of British hold out in a stronghold against the overwhelming and enraged masses of India. The author very quickly hints that this is a metaphor err a simile or analogy; one of those things anyhow of a symbolic battle of reason verses passion. The British were rational with ideas of science and culture and the Sepoys represented pent up anger and passion against the colonialist.
The battle raged and so did the debates between reason and faith, science and culture. As more and more people died so did the hard lines between reason and passion. Until the end reason was brow beaten by faith. The trappings of high culture were reduced to the rudiments of war. Shakespeare fared well against the raging Sepoys, well, at least his miniature head used as a make shift cannon ball did; Keats not so well.
The collector, presumably a tax collector, collected more than taxes, he collected the inventions and bold visions of the Victorian era from the Great Exhibition of 1851 all of which became ruble piled up to fend off the raging Sepoys. He collected all the British and their collections of belongings into the stronghold. They fought and argued, even taking the time between cannon shots to debate the causes and cures of cholera. The end was so well done I will not spoil the moment. Well after the after the battle the Heroes of Krishnapur still debated if ideas formed cultures or are they formed by inexplicable forces beyond their control?
Read this book. Yeah, it's a historical novel and historical novels sometimes make me want to hit myself in the head with a large hammer but this one is different. It gets you into the people and the place but does not forget funny things happen everyday and in the strangest places. "Fleury was deeply touched by the sympathetic words; at the same time he was too overwhelmed by Louise's loveliness to be able to gaze directly at her face. Meanwhile, the pariah dog, which for some reason found him strangely exciting, had again come stealthily hopping back and was attempting to lean lovingly against his ankles." Then there's some stuff about the British being very British which seems to range from overly professional to plan nuts; sometimes both. Things are looking bad for the British but then, "While the Collector's eyes had been lifted to the sky a loathsome creature had approached him along the ground; it was the hideous pariah dog, looking for Fleury." It's like Monty Python wrote a historical novel...
From Seattle library picks.
The beauty of Farrell's book lies not in its contemplation of the history of British brutality in India but in its exposing of the self satisfaction, hubris and ignorance that was at the heart of even the genteel classes of British society. The imagery in the book is gorgeous in its evocation of the Indian countryside, as well as its communication of the utterly alien face it presents to British settlers who seek to transplant England to India and wonder why it simply cannot be accepted by the larger Indian populace.
A wonderful character study which stands firmly on its own two feet as a worthy read.
Andrew Miller's top 10 historical novels
Charlotte Gray: "This was the year I discovered J.G. Farrell, the British writer who produced the dazzling Empire Trilogy in the 1970s and then drowned, aged only 44, in 1979. Farrell’s three novels, set in the declining years of the British Empire, were reissued recently, and in 2010, Troubles, the first of the trilogy, scooped up the “Lost Booker,” for 1970 – a year when the prize was not awarded.
"But my favourite of the trilogy is The Siege of Krishnapur. Set in 1857, when Indian sepoys rebelled and their British overlords retreated in shocked confusion to their compound, The Siege of Krishnapur won the Booker in 1973 and narrowly missed being picked as the “Best of the Bookers” this year. It is gripping, hilarious and tragic. Farrell paints a brilliant portrait of the occupying elite. His stiff-upper-lip Victorian soldiers, administrators and memsahibs display lunatic self-importance, generous humanity and horrific ignorance of local beliefs and interests. I’ve never read a piece of fiction that explores with such subtlety the assumptions on which the Empire was built – assumptions instilled for generations by British private schools."
Describes the insular British and their claim to rule justly a country they didn't or couldn't much understand.
describes the ambitions and delusions of British rule over India ---- the elaborate imperial self-deception which is the true subject of this book.
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