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93 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
'Troubles' is JG Farrell's masterpiece. Set in the months leading up to the Irish Civil War, in a remote hotel by the sea, it concerns the fortunes of a First World War veteran, the Major, on a visit to Ireland, gradually drawn into the declining fortunes of the Anglo-Irish. The Major's inner conflicts mirror the increasingly precarious political situation which...
Published on 13 Jun 2000

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Brilliant and Claustrophobic
J. G Farrell's Troubles focuses on Major Brendan Archer, a retiree from the Army in WW1 who has moved from London to Ireland to reconcile with fiancé, Angela Spencer, a woman he met on leave.
After his fiancé dies, the Major decides to stay in the fading formerly grand hotel, The Majestic. The characters he meets there are all dealing with their own...
Published on 5 Dec 2011 by Shauna Mahoney


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93 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 13 Jun 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
'Troubles' is JG Farrell's masterpiece. Set in the months leading up to the Irish Civil War, in a remote hotel by the sea, it concerns the fortunes of a First World War veteran, the Major, on a visit to Ireland, gradually drawn into the declining fortunes of the Anglo-Irish. The Major's inner conflicts mirror the increasingly precarious political situation which steadily impinges on the lives of the characters, with a vivid conclusion. Farrell's control of the narrative is first-class, moving from the bizarre to the sinister in a matter of sentences, and the book is full of memorable images that linger on the retina long after you've finished reading: the sheep's head in the hotel bedroom, the burning hotel, the overgrown palm court. It's haunting, melancholic, very funny, political, intimate, and beautifully written. There is no-one quite like Farrell writing in Britain today; such a pity his untimely death cut him off in his prime. Treat yourselves.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 1 May 2008
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
Just back from the trenches of World War I, the retired Major Brendan Archer travels out to the Irish village of Kilnalough to meet his fiancée Angela Spencer, whose family runs the (once renowned) Majestic hotel. But once there she proves first elusive and then sick, and before long she dies. But although afterwards there's nothing much keeping him there, the Major finds himself strangely unable to leave the Majestic hotel. But this is Ireland in 1919, and remote as Kilnalough may be, there are increasing stories in the papers of troubles all over Ireland.

As in 'The Siege of Krishnapur' (another masterpiece, set during the Indian Mutiny in 1857, and winner of the Booker Prize), Farrell depicts in this novel the slow decline of the British empire, and he does so in a truly inimitable way. In itself there's nothing much funny about the bloody struggle for Irish independence, but nevertheless Farrell's novel abounds with hilarious scenes and is peopled with characters that are both immensely tragic and unbelievably funny.

I enjoyed the whole story no end, and cannot say how sad it is that Farrell already died at the age of 44 because I'm sure he would have gone on to produce many other deeply beautiful, tragic and funny novels.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr, 3 Aug 2010
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
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.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid and moving metaphor for the collapse of Empire, 8 Feb 2002
By 
L. C. Jones (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
Troubles is the second part of what is a loosely-linked trilogy about the decline of the British Empire. Running through them all to provide some continuity is Major Brendan Archer, a rather weak but quite lovable man who arrives in Ireland in 1921 having retired from the Army in which he served in WW1. He is engaged to a woman he barely knows, Angela, who soon dies. However, rather like the British in Ireland, despite the disappearance of the original reason for his presence, he does not leave. Rather he lingers at Angela's father's Majestic Hotel. The country is being swept by the Home Rule movement, and even the rural area which is the backdrop for Troubles is not immune; Republican freedom fighters are seen on the grounds and the aristocratic residents are in mortal fear at times. The characters are very strongly portrayed in Troubles and the splendid descriptive narrative - particularly of the hotel and its grounds - provide a tangible sense of decay one can almost smell. Of course, since the Hotel is a grand metaphor for the British Empire itself, this is wonderfully appropriate. When Archer arrives, the place is already crumbling and the exotic plants in the conservatory are overgrown and jungular, threatening to block out all the light - perhaps representing the Imperial decline in Asia - by the time he leaves, it is no more. There is a wonderful, glittering hiatus when there seems, for a time, a chance to salvage what is left and turn the clock back, and the reader is swept up in this hopeful optimism, only to have those hopes dashed along with the characters' own - a perfect representation of the interwar years. Troubles can be read on a number of different levels. Even if you are not interested in history, this is still a good read; if you're not interested in the trilogy, it is a freestanding novel in its own right and can simply be read alone. However, if you are familiar with British imperial history, you will find this an erudite and moving story of metaphor. It is a worthy text and I'd highly recommend the other parts of the trilogy, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel, 22 May 2007
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Among the bathtubs and the washbasins

A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole."

"A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford". Derek Mahon.

Irish poet Derek Mahon dedicated the haunting poem quoted above to J.G. Farrell, author of "Troubles". It is a marvelous poem that pays tribute to an absolutely marvelous book; one of the finest books I have read in recent memory.

Farrell, born in Liverpool in 1935 is best-remembered for three books. "Troubles", "The Siege of Krishnapur" (which won Farrell the U.K.'s 1973 Booker Prize), and "The Singapore Grip". Shortly after publication of "The Singapore Grip" Farrell moved to Ireland. He died a few months later when, apparently while fishing, he was swept out to sea and drowned, at age 44. Each of these three books, known collectively as the "Empire Trilogy, is set during a time of crisis in what was once the British Empire. "The Siege of Krishnapur" is set in India during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and "The Singapore Grip" is set in Singapore at the beginning of World War II at the time of the Japanese attack and occupation of Singapore.

"Troubles" takes place in the Irish countryside in 1920, at the height of the turbulence that resulted in the creation of the Irish Republic and the eventual partition of Ireland. The protagonist, the English Major Brendan Archer, is a survivor of the Great War. Upon his demobilization Archer decides to travel from his home in London to Ireland in order to finalize his relationship with Angela Spencer, a young lady he met and perhaps became engaged to, while on leave during the war. Angela's father runs what was once a grand hotel, The Majestic, and Archer finds himself immediately swept up in the collapse of what was once a thriving Anglo-Irish community in Ireland. The Majestic is a mess; it is rotting from within in much the same way that English dominion in Ireland is rotting from without. "Troubles" looks both at the isolated, and fairly bizarre world of the inhabitants of the Majestic while the Irish rebellion creeps closer and closer to intruding on their world.

"Troubles" is an admirable and sometimes uncomfortable mixture of drama and comedy. Some have compared the comedic elements of "Troubles" to the best of Evelyn Waugh and the comparison is certainly apt. I'd only add that Farrell's dark humor is tinted with an element of semi-tragic slapstick such that, given its hotel setting, I could not help but be reminded of John Cleese's "Fawlty Towers". Yet, at the same time, there is an ineffable sadness that permeates the story. Major Archer, whose wartime experiences are only hinted at, is portrayed as a well-intentioned but singularly ineffectual protagonist. He sees the physical rot that surrounds him but is powerless to stop it. He falls in love but his pining and puppy dog-like attempts at courting are rebuffed with so much condescension that I could only wonder why he continued to bother.

I echo the two previous reviewers who have warned readers to save John Banville's brief, but powerful, Introduction to "Troubles" until after they have read the book. Banville reveals a critical spoiler that once read is impossible to forget. By the time I was halfway through the book I was sure that my advance knowledge of a critical event at the conclusion would detract from the pleasure I would have had if I hadn't seen it coming. I urge readers to save the Introduction until after they have actually read the book.

J.G. Farrell's "Troubles" is a wonderful book and I can say nothing more but urge anyone interested in `discovering' a wonderful writer to start with this book. I also suggest that once you've read the book you look up Mahon's poem (cited above) that was dedicated to Farrell. In many respects that poem serves as both a great tribute and a wonderfully crafted review of a book and the meaning one can glean from it. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absorbing, funny and unexpected, 17 Feb 2010
By 
hillbank68 "almac1975" (Fife, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
This is a most absorbing book by a very accomplished writer. It bears marked similarities of theme and structure to Farrell's most famous book, 'The Siege of Krishnapur'. Here, the beleagured British colonial community are not in India but in Ireland in 1919 (at the opening of the book - it covers about two years). A huge, crumbling hotel, the Majestic, is run increasingly eccentrically by its owner, Edward Spencer, a high Tory. Its guests are largely elderly, genteel ladies who have made it more or less their home. To the hotel for a reason which seems bizarre and unreal even to him (and indeed proves to be so) comes 'The Major', Brendan Archer, suffering from post-traumatic stress following front-line service in the Great War. With, really, no other home to go to, he stays, increasingly falling under the spell of a local Catholic girl, Sarah Devlin, a character who reminded me very faintly of Flora Post in 'Cold Comfort Farm'. Indeed, there's a surreal side to the Majestic which is a little like that other book, but this novel has a far more genuinely sinister and historically grounded basis. For this is Ireland just pre-Partition, with deadly activity from 'the Shinners' (Sinn Feinn and the IRA) and equally brutal and indiscriminate responses from the Black and Tans. As with the anti-British Indian forces in 'The Siege of Krishnapur', these two factions remain largely in the background, but as a constant threat, and the central focus is on the Anglo-Irish in the Majestic.

And what a strange group they are - Norton, the mathematician, creepily fixated on young girls (he likes them to sit on his knee), Evans, the unfortunate tutor of Spencer's twin daughters Faith and Charity, the old ladies, Mrs. Rappaport, Spencer's mother-in-law (again, shades of Aunt Ada Doom here), Murphy, the incomprehensible Irish butler, a group of boorish young irregulars billeted on the hotel for a time (it amuses them to make throat-slitting gestures to the old ladies) and so on. It is all seen through the Major's eyes, and he is essentially a decent character who has been through too much and needs to recover - and this is not the best place to do it. In his dutifulness and common sense he is rather like The Collector in 'The Siege of Krishnapur'.

And as in that book, Farrell displays a very considerable comic genius, even in these unpromising circumstances. He has a real sense of the absurd and the unexpected, and some of the book is very funny indeed. He is also a lovely writer whose prose falls easily and fluently on the eye of the reader and is always a pleasure to follow.

'The Siege of Krishnapur' ends as it does, with a deliberately anti-climactic rescue. The ending of 'Troubles' is surprisingly grim, and for a few pages things become very serious indeed. Of course, I cannot reveal how this is or what happens, but I was a little taken by surprise, and yet the situation always makes disaster, cruelty and tragedy not only possible but even probable. Anyway, the last pages of the book are most compelling, but then so is nearly all of the rest. This is an unusual and very fine novel.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A war without battles or trenches.", 26 Jan 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
Originally published in 1970 and newly reprinted, Troubles, the story of Ireland's fight for independence, from the close of World War I through 1922, illuminates the attitudes which led the Irish to fight for their freedom. Farrell also, however, focuses on the personal costs to the residential Anglo-Irish aristocracy as they find themselves being driven out of their "homes."
Edward Spencer, a conservative Protestant loyalist, runs a decaying 300-room hotel on the coast of County Wexford. Regarding himself as a benevolent landowner, he nevertheless demands total submission of his tenants and the signing of a loyalty oath to the King. His ironically named Majestic Hotel, lacking maintenance during the war and its aftermath, is now too costly to repair. When British Major Brendan Archer, newly released from hospital, arrives at the Majestic to reintroduce himself to his fiancée Angela, daughter of the proprietor, the reader quickly sees that the Majestic is a symbol of a faded aristocracy which has outlived its usefulness. The windows are broken, the roof is leaking, and decorative gewgaws and balconies are hanging loosely and threatening to crash. Walls, floors, and even ceilings, are swelling and cracking from vegetation run wild, and the hotel's ironically named Imperial Bar is "boiling with cats," some of which live inside upholstered chairs and all of which subsist on a diet of rats and mice. Irish rebels live just outside the hotel's perimeter.
With wry humor and a formidable talent for description, Farrell conjures up nightmarish images of life in the hotel, selecting small, vivid details to make the larger thematic picture more real. Homely details enlarge his canvas and bring his symbolism home to the reader as the rebellion by the Irish poor continues to grow and affect life within the microcosm of the Majestic. The reader's feeling of claustrophobia and the need to escape builds, and one is not surprised when violence strikes.
By injecting small news stories throughout the narrative, Farrell informs the reader about the progress of the rebellion. He also sets up global parallels, widening his scope by reporting problems in India, South Africa, and other parts of the Empire, along with the Chicago Riots and the Bolshevist attacks in Kiev. Humor and sometimes satire leaven even the most emotional moments, and Farrell paints his characters with a broad brush which makes one constantly aware of their absurdity. Clearly delineating the emotional issues behind the drive for Irish independence, Farrell makes the reader see both sides with empathy. When Edward and the Major finally begin to shoot the Majestic's cats in preparation for a large ball, the reader is prepared for a final round of violence at the Majestic and almost welcomes it. Mary Whipple
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very clever and very funny, 1 Nov 2010
By 
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
You'll either find Troubles achingly funny, or you'll be bored to irritation by its melancholy pace. Major Brendan Archer is still traumatised by his experiences in the trenches when he arrives in Ireland to claim the young woman he acquired as his fiancée in a fit of characteristic vagueness when he was on leave. By now it is 1919 and the Irish countryside is overrun by Sinn Feiners and Black and Tans. Angela's father Edward Spencer, loyalist to the teeth, is the owner of the Majestic Hotel that serves as a metaphor for the decrepit British Empire. The Majestic is a tour de force, inhabited by old ladies smelling of laavender and mothballs, overrun by feral cats and brought to the point of collapse by every kind of rot and by the overgrown vegetation in the Palm Court. The Major is soon released from his engagement - but months pass and a terrible inertia keeps him living (in hysterically funny discomfort) at the Majestic.
As others have pointed out, this is a slow burn. But eventually I realised the skill of Farrell's construction. There's no chapters, the only breaks are intermittent news reports from elsewhere in the crumbling Empire - and like Major Archer, all you can do is read on, carried forward by inertia, unable to extricate yourself from the Majestic until the end. Very clever.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good, but not a siege, 10 Nov 2010
By 
The Hedgehog "me" (The Hedgerows of England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
This is a great novel - full of vivid and flawed characters who are having their core beliefs tested. The problem is that the siege of krishnapur (next in the very loosely described trilogy) is a masterpiece, whereas this is a little over-long and a little too similar to that. If you only read one farrell, read the siege.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Gone With the Wind' meets 'Alice in Wonderland', 6 Sep 2010
By 
Ruth O'D (Limerick, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
Growing up in Ireland in the 1970's, the only history we ever seemed to cover in school was the War of Independence. I became thoroughly sick of its heroes and villains; Black and Tans, the Easter Rising, Padraig Pearse, Michael Collins - ever since I have found the whole business boring and tedious. I have a deep-seated grudge against Eamon De Valera whom I blame for making the Irish language compulsory in our schools, but apart from that I have had no interest for years in the events or people involved in the founding of the Irish Free State.

This wierd and wonderful book has provoked my curiosity. Through the eyes of a gentle, politically-neutral Englishman recovering from his experiences in the Great War, we see the impact of the upheavals of 1919-1921 on ordinary Irish people, rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic. It is not a preachy novel about political rights and wrongs; it is a story of people, their bravery, their foolishness and their suffering. It is interspersed with newspaper articles from further afield - uprisings in India and the Bolsheviks in Russia - which help to establish the global context.

But it is also a very funny, strange and surreal novel. If you don't like Monty Python or Alice in Wonderland you will probably be left cold by the goings-on at the Majestic Hotel. Like Alice, the Major tries to find his way as the only sane person in a strange environment populated by all kind of wierdos and eccentrics, clinging to a bygone age. The hotel itself which is steadily becoming more and more uninhabitable; the 'Palm Court' has been taken over by vegetation, and the upper stories are haunted by hordes of cats. It is a world gone mad, where the veneer of normality is peeling away, and the inhabitants feel like the last survivors clinging to a sinking ship - the state of the country is mirrored in the decay and fear of imminent collapse of the hotel.

However this is not by any means a gloomy book. It is often laugh-out-loud funny, and at times really sweet and touching; an easy and enjoyable read. There are some violent scenes, but they shock not because they are so grim and gory, but because they are unexpected and contrast oddly with the whimsy. This book won't appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found that it gave me a real sense of how the War of Independence affected ordinary people and a curiosity to read further on the the subject.
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Troubles
Troubles by J.G. Farrell (Paperback - 5 Aug 1993)
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