The Siege of Krishnapur is a novel by the author J.G. Farrell, and was published in 1973.
Broadly satirical in nature, it details the siege of an Indian town during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It shows the siege from three perspectives, the British, the Indian sepoys and the Indian princes. Its point of view is very much of the early 1970s and, in its dealings with the Empire. Like that curious but interesting sartorial fashion, The Siege of Krishnapur manages to balance its mockery with a bewitched sense of the glamour and excess of the imperial past. What has saved The Siege of Krishnapur so far is that it isn't just an early-1970s exercise in empire-bashing, nor an orthodox account of the decay of civilisation under pressure. It still seems utterly first-rate because Farrell could not help himself being extremely funny. The absurdity of the class system in a town no one can leave becomes a source of some superb comic invention, and in the end one thinks of it as both brutal and killingly funny, like Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, that account of a dinner party no one can leave.
Of all the novelists of the 1970s, J. G. Farrell is the one whose books make comments about parochialism and small-mindedness seem bafflingly ignorant. Before he died, in a weird and tragic fishing accident in Ireland in 1979, he had finished three books of quite astonishing intelligence, solidity and accomplishment. His first three novels had been accomplished but not entirely satisfying; delicate, directed novels with an autobiographical, scrupulously observed style. It was only by his fourth book, Troubles, that he seemed to find himself, in a historical novel of unique vividness and brio; that novel and the two masterpieces which followed, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip, are at the centre of post-war writing. They mounted an argument about imperialism of magisterial authority, and always have the time to pause to make a ridiculous joke, or describe a fine grotesque character.
Farrell's chosen method: researching a subject thoroughly in the libraries and only towards the end of composition going on location, as it were. The novels have a unique tone of voice, one which risks annoying or even embarrassing the reader with brittle facetiousness.
Farrell's story is set in an isolated Victorian outpost on the subcontinent. Rumors of strife filter in from afar, and yet the members of the colonial community remain confident of their military and, above all, moral superiority. But when they find themselves under actual siege, the true character of their dominion—at once brutal, blundering, and wistful—is soon revealed. The Siege of Krishnapur is a companion to Troubles, about the Easter 1916 rebellion in Ireland, and The Singapore Grip, which takes place just before World War II, as the sun begins to set upon the British Empire. Together these three novels offer an unequaled picture of the follies of empire.
This is the fictitious account, hilarious and horrifying by turns, of a besieged British garrison which held out for four months in the summer of 1857, the year of the Great Indian Mutiny, against a horde of native Sepoys. Despite the omens, the young British cavalry officers continue to indulge their taste for galloping into the nearest memsahib's drawing room, jumping over the sofas and then filling their sola topis with champagne instead of water to quench their horses' thirst. It is left to the Governor of Krishnapur, a sensitive, cultured man with a collection of treasures in his residence, to prepare for the siege. By the end of it cholera, starvation and the Sepoys have done for most of the inhabitants, who are reduced to eating beetles and, in the absence of powder and shot, loading their cannons with monogrammed silver cutlery and false teeth. The final retreat of the British, still doggedly stiff-upper-lipped, through the pantries, laundries, music rooms and ballroom of the residency, using chandeliers and violins as weapons, is a comic delight.
Farrell's novel won the Booker Prize in 1973. It is considered one of the best Booker winners.