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Troubles by J. G. Farrell

Troubles (1970)

by J. G. Farrell

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Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
This is a rather odd book. It starts off feeling rather quaint, like something that might have come from Angela Thirkell or D. E. Stevenson. Between there and the bleak end, we wander through an almost love story, characters that are reminiscent of Fawlty Towers in their comedic value, legions of feral cats, discourses on existentialism…with side orders of terrorist attacks, religious persecution, and date rape.

Surprisingly, this hodgepodge works. Set in a massive, dilapidated hotel in Ireland during the time of Partitioning, Farrell has given us an extended metaphor for the crumbling of the British Empire and the reactions of both those affected positively and those affected negatively. Somehow, the bizarre journey from a comedy of manners to a semi-tragedy is apropos. It’s angry and tragic and bleak. I’m reminded of Rory’s line in The Devil’s Own: “Don’t look for a happy ending. It’s not an American story. It’s an Irish one.”

This story won the “Lost Booker” that was awarded retroactively to cover books published in 1970 since that year’s books were ineligible for the normal Man Booker Prize due to a rule change. I’m no judge if this book will survive the test of time as one of the great examples of fiction arising out of the Troubles but it’s certainly an experience to read it. ( )
1 vote TadAD | Dec 31, 2016 |
I've been sitting here racking my brains for the right way to approach what the experience of reading [Troubles] was like. Is it like the Brea Tar Pits? Is it the Hotel California? Is it like every disaster movie you've ever seen but happening in s-lo-w motion? Or those dreams where you revisit some house you knew as a child and find there are doors that open into marvelous and odd rooms you never knew were there.

There is never any question that a catastrophe of epic proportions is going to unfold. Firstly because it is 1919 in Ireland and if you know any Irish history at all you know that was the start of three years of miserable violence between the British and the Irish. Secondly, the story takes place in an immense (300 rooms!) formerly grand but now decaying hotel in Wexford, on the coast, run by an eccentric Englishman, Edward Spencer, who proves to be in a state of total denial about the inevitable. Thirdly, the main character, Brendan Archer, known mostly as 'the Major,' is another Englishman who fought in the war and has come to the hotel to woo the proprietor's daughter, Angela, whom he had met before the war and who has been writing to him ever since as if they were affianced. So the point of view is firmly English. Or is it? Archer arrives, he cannot figure out what is happening with Angela, he finds the hotel at turns maddening and even disgusting, at other times, beguiling. Time seems to move differently here in Ireland and for the Major, still deeply traumatized by the war, you can see that the mystery and the unworldiness of it is somehow captivating and soothing. I understand that Farrell was deeply interested in portraying the collapse of the British Empire (and continues to do so in two more related novels). Handled less well, the hotel would be little more than an allegorical stand-in for the neglect and overconfidence, the refusal to face facts and the apathy that characterizes the British upper classes at this time. From the moment you step into the Hotel Majestic with the Major, you too, begin to fall under its uncanny spell. At about the halfway mark the Major becomes aware that, "he no longer had the will-power to leave . . . all he could do now was allow himself to drift with the tide of events. Some strange insect had taken up residence in the will-power of which he had always been so proud, eating away at it unobserved like a slug in an apple."

The Majestic has so many public rooms--bars, parlours, sitting rooms, libraries, gun rooms, game rooms, card rooms, that finding his way around takes the Major months. Once very chic the hotel is now understaffed and mostly inhabited by a large group of elderly women, many refugees from the Empire, who have nowhere better to go. If the plumbing in a bathroom fails, you simply find another room. In winter, when it is freezing cold, the Major, finding a linen room that is near a source of heat and always hot, makes himself a nest and retires there often, removing his clothing and happily wallowing about! It is such unexpected revelations as these that fuel [Troubles] and make it so . . . unique. Downstairs, in the Palm Room the plants have taken over. Roots bulge through floors and walls. Strange cracking sounds are to be heard. Curtains rot and sofas are explosive with dust. On the top floors feral cats breed in legions. And yet, the place limps on, some of the niceties are still observed and even if the pool is filthy and the tennis court useless, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are still served formally. No one I've read in recent years except Iris Murdoch has captured the spirit of a building so completely until you realize that it is really the Majestic that the Major has fallen in love with and grieves for as it literally starts to collapse around him. The Empire? Yes and no. It is so much more than that, somehow through this hotel Farrell can show the grandeur and the folly, the charm and the evil of the Empire in its dotage. The Major, too, feels sympathy for everyone, Irish and Anglo alike and his bewilderment and continuing efforts to be a decent person throughout, is very moving. Farrell's metaphors are also exquisite and unexpected and apt. I've never read anything quite like it, such a perfect and relentless blend of humor and pathos. ***** ( )
9 vote sibyx | Jun 28, 2016 |
I made the rather embarrassing error of mistaking J.G. Farrell for E.M. Forster, before I picked up this book. Must have been something to do with the double-initial British-sounding venerable author-like name. Consequently, I had somewhat tepid expectations from the novel Troubles...and was proved delightfully wrong.

The hero of Troubles is one Major Brendan Archer, recently released from duty in WWI. Suffering from a lack of real family, he goes to Ireland in 1919 to reunite with his 'fiancee', a girl he once kissed on a summer afternoon and never met again. The girl Angela, hilariously enough, has been writing to him all through his tour of duty, signing off, "your fiancee..."

This gave me enough indication that the book was going to be a good deal more funny than I gave it credit for. And it does deliver on that account. Angela lives in the Hotel Majestic run by her father Edward in rural Ireland; the hotel itself is run-down and now populated by various old ladies and cats, both contingents of whom neither pay nor leave.

And in essence, that is all the plot there is. Which is to say, the good Mr. Farrell is so dashed accomplished, that he can take this idea- a crumbling, once-glorious institution like the Majestic, and chart its decline along with the stories of those who come to live there, one way or another- and make a jolly good show out of it. The descriptions of the Palm Court and first tea-party scene are alone worth the price of admission.

The poor Major does manage to fall for the wrong girl, though, I will say that. The increasingly tense political situation in Ireland is also masterfully depicted. Not that I would know a whit about that, and indeed I was guilty of skimming over parts which dealt with it, but that is my own failing and doesn't take away from the narrative.

Full review at http://devikamenon.blogspot.com/2013/09/readings-troubles.html ( )
  dmenon90 | Jun 6, 2016 |
This last book in the series completes my reading of Farrell’s Empire trilogy. I wish I’d read them in order. I actually read them back to front. Troubles is a perfect opener for anyone who wants to read them the right way round.

British Major Brendan Archer finds himself a victim of the magnetic attraction of The Majestic, a hotel in an Ireland under occupation shortly after World War I. Despite it’s name, The Majestic is very much a shadow of its former self. The building is slowly decomposing, its owner and long-term residents living on the memories accrued during the hotel’s glory days decades before.

Herein lies one of many of the symbolic aspects of a novel that starts a trilogy that cleverly satirises the self-inflicted blindness of the British Empire’s most ardent citizens. The hotel’s owner, Edward Spencer, seems determined to maintain protocol in the face of the decreptitude around him. In many ways he is the embryo of the much better written Collector in the second book of the series, The Seige of Krishnapur. His behaviour, like that of the Collector gets more and more eccentric as the situation gets more desperate.

The Major doesn’t intend to stay long after his first visit. But a tentative romance attracts him back and he then finds that he cannot pull himself away despite it being fairly obvious to the reader that both the romance and the hotel are doomed. In a way, he feels obligated to defend and maintain the hotel against the inevitable as the political situation becomes more dangerous to them all.

The characters are all lamentable, the hotel itself is the most dominant, as it should be and it all ends as it should. There’s nothing much uplifting here, but then, long gone is the time when we would speak of any Empire in uplifting terms. So, that’s just as well.

This is an excellent novel and one which encapsulates for me what the novel as an art form is all about: capturing the essence of our human experience and depicting it against the backdrop of human history in a way which later generations can learn from. However, it’s not as good, in my opinion, as The Seige of Krishnapur so make sure you read that after this if you’ve not already.

Farrell was a genius. We lost a lot of literature when he fell in the sea that day. ( )
2 vote arukiyomi | Nov 6, 2015 |
What better way to recover from the the horrors and traumas and PTSDs, or 'nerves' as they so quaintly called it back before they invented PTSD, of the First World War, than a nice quiet stay in Ireland, circa 1920? The peaceful countryside, clement weather and charming locals are like soothing balm for a troubled soul. HAHAHAHA no really the British Empire is crumbling into a shattered morass of blood and resentment and sectarian grudge fights, a bit like the hotel the Major goes to because he may or may not have proposed to the owner's daughter, a bit like Ireland in 1920 when savage Irish leprechauns began chewing at the ankles of the snotty British toffs.

Anyway, the Major's maybe-intended proves weirdly difficult to pin down before abruptly departing from the picture, leaving the Major more confused than begrieved, but a weird fascination and attraction has begun and he finds it difficult to depart, so he finds himself part of the hotel's long slow slide from decrepitude to utter ruination, and cleverly enough, the Irish War of Independence serves as an acute metaphor for this haunting portrait of the severe difficulties in the hotel trade and the Anglo-Irish tourism industry at this time. ( )
1 vote Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (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.
“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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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:44 -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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