Troubles by J. G. Farrell

October 26, 2010 | No Comments

Troubles (New York Review Books Classics)In May this year, the Lost Man Booker (from ‘missing’ year 1970) was awarded to J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, and I, like many others I’m sure, tracked down a copy, though not without difficulty. Wow, what a whopping roller-coaster ride of a book this is: like Lewis Carroll crossed with Edgar Allen Poe then tossed into a sectarian Irish stew.  British veteran of the First World War, Major Brendon Archer, visits a decaying Irish hotel in 1919, in search of his elusive fiancee and finds himself unable to leave, even when romance fades, even though the Majestic Hotel makes Faulty Towers akin to a Four Seasons, even as the country slides into Civil War. The Majestic is as doomed and fissured as Poe’s House of Usher, only it reflects not the soul of a man, but of a entire nation. As it succumbs to damp, rot, tree roots, feral cats, and ditzy old ladies, “shawled and feathered, chatting and squabbling,” who are addicted to bridge while they crumble to dust, Ireland succumbs to famine, strife and anarchy. 
Troubles is wildly funny and doom-laden. Several times I put it down to read something else, so furious was I with our good-natured but dimwitted hero’s inability to simply pack his bag and leave, and feeling entrapped in the hotel’s confusing and claustrophobic corridors, by the insidious bigotry and irrationality on all sides. Violence grows under the slapstick like a cancer, for “in Ireland you must choose your tribe. Reason has nothing to do with it,” and “a man one met in the street in Kilnalough might with equal justification (provided it fitted his own private view of things) offer you a piece of pie or slit your throat.” Not sure I fully enjoyed Troubles, but I’ll certainly never forget it. I dropped my copy in the bathtub and its wrinkled and tatty demeanor seems fitting somehow…