Friday 5 July 2019

Reading Group Notes

I've just finished rereading J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur (having reread Troubles shortly before my retirement). The Siege was every bit as good as I remember from my first reading, and, if anything, even funnier. It has all the virtues of Farrell at his best – the brilliant organisation of narrative and character, the unfailing light touch, the humour, the cool but indulgent eye for absurdity and self-delusion – and it adds up to at least as great an achievement as Troubles. As a review of the time said, 'For a novel to be witty is one thing, to tell a good story is another, to be serious is yet another, but to be all three together is surely enough to make it a masterpiece' – and, for a wonder, The Siege of Krishnapur won the Booker Prize in 1973.
 The edition I read, a Weidenfeld & Nicolson paperback, comes complete with several pages of Reading Group Notes, including a couple of brief synopses which get no further than the opening pages (as far as reading group members are likely to read?) – and a peculiarly deadening list of points For Discussion, e.g.

'One cannot change something that is sacred.' How does the Padre's view fit with nineteenth-century Britain?

What does the author feel about bureaucracy? How does he demonstrate his feelings?

'A people, a nation, does not create itself according to its own best ideas, but is shaped by other forces, of which it has little knowledge.' This is how the author ends the novel – what do you understand by his conclusion? How does it apply to modern society?

How indeed? And are these really the kind of questions they discuss in reading groups? Not if Mrs N's experience of such groups is anything to go by...
  As for me, I can't wait to reread The Singapore Grip.