As we mentioned last month, the second "Best of the Booker" award will be given out this summer. Now the shortlist has been announced, and J.G. Farrell's Siege of Krishanpur (a creative retelling about seemingly hapless Brits during the Sepoy rebellion of 1857) is indeed one of the six finalists. Farrell is not as well known over here as some of the other names on the list (Rushdie, Gordimer, Carey, Coetzee, Barker), but his inclusion on the shortlist points to the importance of his "Empire Trilogy"—which also comprises Troubles (about Ireland) and The Singapore Grip.
Though the bookies aren't setting great odds for Farrell's book to win, its underdog status has brought out reevalutions from many intelligent fans.
One of the best discussions of The Siege comes from Sam Jordison at The Guardian books blog. He manages to touch on the book's humor, its pathos, why it isn't "guilty of 'cultural imbalance,'" and the debate still going on about the significance of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (for more on the rebellion—or mutiny, or "first war of independence"—see William Dalrympole's history The Last Mughal.)
Sam Jordison also reminds us what a tough-ass Farrell was: "At the ceremony he pointedly remarked that he was going to use the money they'd give him to research 'commercial exploitation' and noted that: 'Every year, the Booker brothers see their prize wash up a monster more horrid than the last.'" (Now where is our copy of Lavinia Greacen's Farrell biography so we can read more about this episode?)
Farrell’s prose has a wonderful sense of place, and the disintegration of the community and its values is subtly conveyed by the writing. It is also wonderfully funny, with almost no character escaping Farrell’s scorn and ridicule.
The author of the Fleetofworlds blog remarks,
If I had to choose one book to take to a Desert Island it would be The Siege of Krishnapur. It is a work of genius. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you do so. It is funny, heartbreaking, horrifying and touching, and essentially British - a damning critique of Empire which never resorts to mere Empire-bashing.