My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I had to study this for my A level and it was one of the few fictional books that I’ve had to dissect which still came out as one of my favourite books.
There are so many amazing moments in this book that it’s difficult to know which to pick out but the incident on the stairs will remain with me for my lifetime I know.
The characters are believable, the setting is, obviously, historically realistic and the outcome of the novel is an acceptable conclusion which demonstrates perfectly the flaws of the old British Empire and how the decline began in the Indian Raj.
Events in the book are both brutal and also hilarious, the mix between these two elements makes the horrific incidents even more shocking and, in George Fleury, Farrell has created a character who isn’t so much a hero as a man forced by circumstance to up his game and turn his back on the dandified British officer background he comes from when things come to a head as the Sepoys mutiny, taking the local populace with them.
The other characters are portrayed as superficial, everything exists within the vacuum created by the sieging natives and yet life goes on as normal for this section of the elite and their servants.
Farrell makes no mention of those involved in the uprising, they are kept as a faceless mass of seething anger and hatred and this helps to prolong the feeling that those stuck inside Krishnapur’s British compound were also ignorant of the native population and what effect the Raj was having on their country and their existence.
Having said that, Farrell was a supremely talented author and, in spite of their flaws and their self-absorbing and self-serving nature, you do want to see them survive and get back home to Blighty.
He finishes off the novel with a sucker punch, none of those involved who survive appear to have learnt their lessons at all, they return to other parts of the Empire with the same attitudes of superiority and condescension they brought back from India.
It’s a supremely well written book and a deserved winner of the 1974 Booker Prize. It’s also part of his Empire trilogy of books looking at the breakdown in the British Empire alongside Troubles (set in Ireland and also a winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize of 1970) and The Singapore Grip.
That his talent was lost at such a relatively early age when he drowned while fishing off the coast of Ireland aged only 44, is a real blow.