This book was a revelation to me. The reader swiftly becomes immersed in the amazing world of 1919-21 Ireland. Action is centred on the fictive run-down Majestic Hotel in County Wexford. The establishment is emblematic of the last days of English rule. Owned and managed by an eccentric Unionist, the hotel caters for guests that are largely of that political hue, though there are a few notable exceptions in the character list. The Majestic is an enclave of the ascendancy in an Ireland on the verge of civil war. Life here is viewed through the prism of a young, liberally-minded major just returned from the Great War and planning to marry the proprietor's daughter. His plans are however thwarted by fate. One of many scenes that intrigued me was when a group of Oxford undergraduates stay at the hotel. The proprietor Edward Spencer expects them to support his bigoted, racist views of the native Irish. The visitors, despite their privileged backgrounds, side with indigenous population's wish to break free of the colonial power. Spencer is livid.
The book was awarded the 1970 Man Booker prize in May 2010 because there was no award made that year - something to do with a mix-up in qualification dates. Anyway, unlike most Booker awards, the decision of the judges - in this case, the reading public - was overwhelming. I can see why. It's very funny, quirky, sad, wise and yet analogous of the troubled Ireland of the Nineteen-Seventies, when the book was written. I read the last 250 pages in one sitting. Sadly the author, JG Farrell drowned in a fishing accident in Cork in 1979. He had a reputation for being something of a curmudgeon on colonialism and capitalism. But for all that, the text never preaches and is concerned above all with the intrinsic humanity of the characters. 'Troubles' is part of Farrell's 'Empire Trilogy", the rest of which I cannot wait to savour.