So far, this is my favorite of this year's Best of the Booker shortlist (I still have to read Midnight's Children and The Conservationist). It was a great story with a lot of subtle characters and themes. And the writing was excellent. I wish that Sacred Hunger could have been written in language this good and meticulous--it is poetic yet simple and does an excellent job setting the overall feel for a deep historical novel.
The novel itself, as the title says, is about a siege that happened in 1857. A British community in Krishnapur is attacked by Muslim soldiers. On that level, it is a great adventure novel. The action is great; Farrell manages to express the excitement and fear at the same time as he relays the strategies of the defense. It was both interesting and entertaining.
The true beauty of this novel, however, lies in its discussions about civilization, colonialism, and "ideas" of progress. All of the characters, at one point or another, have to examine how they feel about their position in both India and in the greater construct of "civilization." There is a lot of pride, of course. Farrell does an excellent job displaying that pride with ironic undertones. For example, when one soldier dies:
"Providence has denied his country the privilege of decking his youthful brow with the chaplets which belong to the sons of victory and of fame, but his deeds can never die. The pages of history will record and rehearse them far and wide, and every Englishman, whether in his island home or a wanderer on some foreign shore, will relate with admiration what George Foxlett Cutter did at the siege of Krishnapur!"
Since the book takes place soon after the Great Exhibition, that event provides a nice backdrop to the conversation. However, much of the book felt disconnected from its history, and I felt a strong desire to get more of an epic feel. Then again, the book is about an isolated siege that has turned out to be rather insignificant even in its own time. This feeling of isolation fits nicely with that.
5 stars out of 5.