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Troubles by J. G. Farrell
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Troubles (1970)

by J. G. Farrell

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Finally got some thoughts in order about this strange, brilliant novel: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/novelreadings/j-g-farrell-troubles
  rmaitzen | Feb 7, 2014 |
Poor Major Brendan Archer has survived the Great War and sets off to Ireland to visit his mysterious fiancée, Angela, at the Majestic, the hotel owned by her family.

Although he was sure that he had never actually proposed to Angela during the few days of their acquaintance, it was beyond doubt that they were engaged: a certainty fostered by the fact that from the very beginning, she had signed her letters "Your fiancée, Angela". This had surprised him at first. But, with the odour of death drifting into the dug-out, it would have been trivial and discourteous behind words to split hairs about such purely social distinctions.

He finds his blushing bride remarkably blasé at his arrival and he decides to end the engagement and head back to England. Except he can't manage to leave the crumbling Majestic, even when it becomes obvious the marriage won't take place. He ends up in a strange friendship with Angela's eccentric father, Edward; comforting and entertaining the group of elderly ladies who have taken permanent residence; reining in Angela's wild twin sisters, Faith and Charity (who are amazing); and becoming a sensible caretaker of sorts for the hotel. Meanwhile, there is significant unrest between the Catholic nationalists and the occupying British, leading to increasing violence in the area.

Troubles is very funny but also quite tragic. Major Archer manages to sort out the various troubles (!) of the residents and hotel because he's the only sensible person around, but he is often seized by ennui and despair of the futility of it all. He listens with cold and indifferent skepticism as people argue over Ireland's independence. He is tortured by an unrequited love affair that is mostly comprised of chaste walks and meaningful silences (my all time fave!). He is worn down by the war and the current state of the world but musters all that is best about being English and just plows through. He's pretty much the best. But it's not a total downer! Even when things are falling apart completely, the book is very funny. Really, actually laughed aloud, funny. And Major Archer is still young enough to be (for the most part) optimistic and hopeful. ( )
  amy_marie26 | Jan 10, 2014 |
From the first page of Troubles, we're thrust into a rather bizarre world of a once-grand but now dilapidated hotel on the western edge of Southern Ireland. The Majestic Hotel is inhabited by guests who are similarly frayed around the edges. They get to share the accommodation with an army of feral cats that takes up residence in the hotel's once grand Imperial Bar, the tendrils of rubber plants and creepers which engulf the Palm Court and tree roots that burst through floors. Little of this seems to disturb the equilibrium of the few remaining inhabitants. As they play whist and gossip, their main concern is when - or if - afternoon tea will materialise. They seem equally impervious to the forces of change gathering momentum in the world outside the hotel.

What happens to the Majestic and its disintegrating occupants is a metaphor for the story of Ireland between 1919 and 1921, a period which saw a violent battle for independence from British rule. If the hotel cannot maintain the very fabric of its existence or the way of life it represents, neither can the old order of the privileged Anglo-Irish in Ireland maintain control against the larger and increasingly hostile group of Nationalists and Republicans.

All of which makes it sound as if Troubles is a book in which the story is secondary to the message the author wants to push at us. In other word that this is a book that screams "serious message".

That would however be doing O'Farrell a great disservice.

Troubles is the first part of his Empire trilogy (the two other novels are The Seige of Krishnapur which is set in India and Singapore). Although the political upheaval in Ireland and the challenge to the imperial order is the background to Troubles, he doesn't often refer to it directly or get his characters to indulge in long discussions about the merits or otherwise of the varying factions. The outside world only intrudes upon the Majestic in an oblique way, via occasional newspaper cuttings or chance remarks by the characters in the story. The reader is really left to recognise the inferences and to interpret the multiple metaphors for themselves.

We see the events through the eyes of Major Brendan Archer – an ex Army Officer who has come home from World War 1 and now wants to be re-united with the girl he thinks (but is not absolutely sure about) is his fiancee, Angela Spencer. Angela and her father own the Majestic but are not particularly good at hotel management — when the Major arrives, he is astounded that there is no-one at reception, he's left to his own devices to choose a bedroom; the whole place is covered in dust and there is a funny smell in his room...

The 'engagement' doesn't last long but the major finds himself unable to leave and so becomes a witness to the downward spiral of the hotel and the country.

Farrell tells this story with the same mix of comic and elegaic style that I discovered when reading The Seige of Krishnapur. There are times it borders on the preposterous and times when it's simply bizarrely funny. I loved the picture he paints early in the book when the Major has his first encounter with the ageing inhabitants. He finds them in the Palm Court, slowly being overtaken by the foliage.

"[it]....was really amazingly thick; there were creepers not only dangling rom above but also running in profusion over the floor, leaping out to seize any unwary object that remained in one place for too long. A standard lamp at his elbow, for instance had been throttled by a snake of greenery that had circled up its slender metal stem as far as the black bulb that crowned it like a bulging eyeball."

It was also rather fun trying to work out the nature of some of the allusions. For example, who or what is represented by a massive marmalade cat that prowls the corridors and then squats in the ample lap of one of the most aristocratic female guests, glowering with acid green eyes at everything and everyone around it.

In short Troubles was a fantastic read. Its value was recognised in 2010 when it was was awarded the Lost Man Booker Prize, a one-time award chosen among books published in 1970 which had not been considered for the Man Booker Prize at the time. Sadly, there are not many other novels by O'Farrell for me to explore because his career came to an abrupt end when he was drowned in a storm in 1979 at the age of 44. ( )
  Mercury57 | Jan 5, 2014 |
This took a long time to get going- the first third or so lacks much direction, and the direction it has is disappointingly heavy handed: so there's this hotel in Ireland? During the troubles? And it's owned by Anglo-Irish Unionists? And the hotel's falling apart. Um... subtle. Also, flabby.
But once the characters are set and the background's been filled in, it becomes quite enjoyable, and even the symbolism is palatable. The NYRB cover is very misleading, though- like Bowen's 'The Last September,' this is a country house novel that happens to take place in the middle of a bloody uprising/oppression, rather than a novel about said uprising/oppression- emphasis on the *country house.* The best parts have almost nothing to do with the Troubles; there are tremendous set-pieces, particularly the hotel's final ball. But the setting certainly adds poignancy and gravitas to the fun and suspense of the love story; the revelation of the 'iron bed' literally took my breath away. I can easily see myself re-reading this in a few years. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Written in the 1970's but set in 1919 and 1920, this novel is set in the decrepit Majestic Hotel in Ireland, now frequented only by elderly ladies of reduced means. It is visited by a British Major of independent means who is a bit shell-shocked from his war experiences, but has managed during one of his army leaves to get engaged to the Anglo-Irish daughter of the hotel proprietor. He becomes increasing entangled in the affairs of the hotel and of an increasing violent Ireland, as Sinn Fein and the British police engage in escalating retributions. The characters are wonderfully drawn as they become defined and controlled by the troubling situation they find themselves in. Yet they can't seem to withdraw from Ireland as the hotel and the country crumble around them. ( )
  gbelik | Nov 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Set in the Majestic hotel in fictional Kilnalough, County Wexford, Troubles sees Major Brendan Archer travelling to meet Angela, the fiancee he had acquired during an afternoon's leave. The engagement proves shortlived but the major remains in the hotel, hypnotised by its faded charms and ancient inhabitants, as the Irish war of independence is about to begin.

added by peterbrown | editThe Guardian, Alison Flood (May 20, 2010)
 
Troubles has everything: great story, compelling characters, believable dialogue and big ideas. It's a book good enough to win the Booker in any year. Not just 1970.
added by peterbrown | editThe Guardian, John Crace (Apr 1, 2010)
 
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In those days the Majestic was still standing in Kilnalough at the very end of a slim peninsula covered with dead pines leaning here and there at odd angles.
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“People are insubstantial. They never last. All this fuss, it’s all fuss about nothing. We’re here for a while and then we’re gone. People are insubstantial. They never last at all.”
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140039732, Paperback)

Set against the backdrop of growing tensions in Ireland in 1919, Troubles, written in 1970, is the first novel in J.G. Farrell's "Empire Trilogy". "Troubles" is set on the east coast of Ireland, largely in the Hotel Majestic, a formerly grand building that has seen better days and now generally houses more cats than guests. The listener is taken back to July 1919, when the 'Major' is visiting the Majestic to reunite with his fiancee Angela, the Protestant proprietor Edward Spencer's daughter. The lovers met in Brighton during the War and have since only corresponded long-distance. The welcome he receives is not quite what he expected. He quickly becomes sucked into the political and sociological ethos of the hotel and its inhabitants, and the story builds tantalisingly until its inevitable dramatic conclusion. A touching, often very funny and yet ultimately rather sad story, which will capture the listener's heart and excite their interest with its themes of Irish politics and love, played out in an unlikely and fragile sanctuary. The reader Sean Barrett is an Irish-born actor who has enjoyed success in the theatre, on television and in film.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:59 -0400)

"1919: After surviving the Great War, Major Brendan Archer makes his way to Ireland, hoping to discover whether he is indeed betrothed to Angela Spencer, whose Anglo-Irish family owns the once-aptly-named Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough. But his fiance;e is strangely altered and her family's fortunes have suffered a spectacular decline. The hotel's hundreds of rooms are disintegrating on a grand scale; its few remaining guests thrive on rumors and games of whist; herds of cats have taken over the Imperial Bar and the upper stories; bamboo shoots threaten the foundations; and piglets frolic in the squash court. Meanwhile, the Major is captivated by the beautiful and bitter Sarah Devlin. As housekeeping disasters force him from room to room, outside the order of the British Empire also totters: there is unrest in the East, and in Ireland itself the mounting violence of 'the troubles.' Troubles is a hilarious and heartbreaking work by a modern master of the historical novel"--Publisher description.… (more)

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