Top positive review
30 people found this helpful
As good as it gets
on 3 August 2009
What a brilliant read. Set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, a time when the country was still administered by the British East India Company, the novel juxtaposes Victorian ideas of progress and civilisation with the horror and inhumanity of an extended siege on a fictional cantonment, Krishnapur. Set in the years after the Great Exhibiton, it contrasts the high-minded pretensions of the town's inhabitants with the reality of humanity at its most desperate to absurd and hilarious effect. With a brilliant cast of characters - from the zealous, heckling Padre to the grim, cynical Magistrate; from the ineffectual romantic Fleury to the stolid, misunderstood Dr McNab - I enjoyed it thoroughly from beginning to end.
While the 'serious' setting might suggest otherwise, the book is extraordinarily gripping, and riddled with grim humour, believable, interesting characters and an admirable insight into the contemporary science and medicine (subjects diverse as the treatment of cholera, phrenology and military tactics are discussed at length, without ever detouring into tedious longeurs). It's cliche, but I genuinely couldn't put the book down; at parts I found myself laughing out loud and shaking my head in disbelief. So realistically is the siege brought to life that you can almost smell the rotting flesh of its victims and hear the crash of the defending cannons. It's easy to see why this was nominated for the Best of Bookers and is held in such high esteem thirty-odd years after its publication, yet I'd recommend it heartily to readers of all levels and abilities.