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4.1 out of 5 stars
69
4.1 out of 5 stars
Troubles
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on 3 August 2010
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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on 6 August 2017
An educational and entertaining insight into a rarely explored part of our history. The main character is a perfect gentleman caught between fading colonialism and the reality of life for the indigenous population. Cleverly sprinkled with relevant newsworthy events of the time.
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on 18 May 2017
Very good
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on 27 April 2017
Excellent book.
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on 15 November 2011
Well written, but am still not sure if I liked it or not! It deals with a troubled time in Ireland's past and really brings this to life, but tells this in quite a different way through the point of view of the outsider who is drawn into the conflict. I found it hard thought to empathise with any of the main characters, and at times got annoyed by them. I felt more for the decaying hotel than any of it's residents! A good read, but hard to like in my opinion.
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on 28 October 2015
I really liked this book because it was entertaining reading, but also informed me about an era/events I was not so aware of. I liked it enough to pass it along -- the only one I could recommend from the four books I bought.
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on 11 March 2013
Troubles is part of JG Farrell's Empire Trilogy. It tells the story of a major after the First World War who becomes engaged by mistake to a woman from Ireland. He visits her at the hotel which is run by her family, where he is soon released from his obligation, but somehow he stays.

The hotel is gradually going to ruin but the staff and guests carry on, apparently oblivious, living hypnotically uneventful lives in the decaying remnants of colonial splendour. Meanwhile, outside, the world is changing. There is a sense of impending threat as the struggle for Irish independence gathers momentum, eventually penetrating even the grounds.

The guests regard all this as a kind of backdrop, something which enlivens their trips out or forms a topic of conversation over afternoon tea. They make no response - until finally they have no choice.

Farrell makes the behaviour of the characters both ridiculous and entirely believable. Confronted by crisis, by tumultous events beyond their control, they focus on what is immediate - playing whist or planning a ball.

At their heart is the Major, an enigmatic character who appears to have retained his rank but relinquished his name. His identity was forged by the traumas of the war and he now returns to a world sleepwalking into further conflict.

This is an intriguing, bleakly funny and powerful book. Like the Major, I couldn't tear myself away.
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on 6 September 2010
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 January 2013
J. G. Farrell's "Troubles", part of his Empire Trilogy, was first published in 1970 and re-issued in 2007. I read the books in reverse order, first "The Singapore Grip" and then "The Siege of Krishnapur", over a long period of time and so am unable to comment on the complementarity, or otherwise, of the novels as a trilogy. Many earlier reviewers have described the story, so there is no need to repeat it.

Farrell was half-Irish and one can readily imagine his reading the work, reveling in the comedy and rolling out of metaphor and symbolism - the very name of the dilapidated hotel, "Majestic"; the elderly hotel guests and the hotel owner, Edward Spencer, and indeed even the hotel itself all appear to be racing one another into decline; the main character, Major Brendon Archer, through whom much of the story is filtered, is still shell-shocked from the recent war and, lured to the hotel, finds it impossible to free himself of its clutches. He is also a political and religious innocent.

The Irish story, set between 1919 and 1922, is given a wider context by the regular insertion of newspaper articles describing the erupting violence in Russia and India, which demonstrate that the growing violence meted out by both sides in Ireland is every bit as vicious as that occurring in far-away places. The approaching "Irish War of Independence" is a very real off-stage character whose approach is presented through newspaper reports, the incendiary words and violent actions of each side and the comments of those living in the hotel who are increasingly affected by the deepening crisis.

The reader is invited to identify with the Major, to share his confusion and frustration in a personal and Irish world which increasingly is not governed by the rules and regulations of army service. With few exceptions, the novel is confined to the hotel and its grounds, and the reader comes to share the sense of claustrophobia of the Major who finds the roots under the ballroom floor and the bulges behind the plastered walls pressing in on him . The forces hastening the collapse of the hotel, from inside, outside and underneath, reflect the crumbling of the British Empire.

As in his other books, Farrell has a wonderful ability to describe people and animals, of which there are many, and to capture the boredom of an existence into which the Major has fallen. However, it is on the Majestic that he focuses his most impressive descriptions, an organism that is both dying and flourishing.

At the centre of the novel is the Major and his relationship to Sarah, a local Catholic, and this was the weakness of the book for me. At the beginning, the Major is deftly drawn but as time passes it is difficult to know how old he is - he behaves like a centenarian. It is particularly difficult to understand the attraction between himself and Susan, which proceeds along a path which, in some ways, parallels that of his earlier relationship with his fiancée, which originally brought him to the Majestic and where he remained after her death.

There are many moments, many pages where the whimsical humour of the descriptions balance the underlying violence, and at such times I was held by the narrative; at others, such as when the antics of a cross-dressing young Irishman and the two younger sisters of the Major's fiancée are being described and seem superfluous to its onward flow, the book began to get very long.

The publishers should alert animal-lovers to the harm that is described being done to cats and dogs, pigs and peacocks.
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on 1 May 2008
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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