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Troubles [Paperback]

By J. G. Farrell & John Banville (Introduction by)
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Item Number 426425  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   512
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.25" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 31, 2002
Publisher   NYRB Classics
ISBN  1590170180  
EAN  9781590170182  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
In a heart-rending story set in 1919 Ireland, the Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough marks its decline through its dwindling guest list and the World War I veteran who returns to his homeland to claim a family legacy. Reprint.

Publishers Description
Winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize
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 fiancee 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.

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More About J. G. Farrell & John Banville

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! J.G.Farrell (1935-1979) was born with a caul, long considered a sign of good fortune. Academically and athletically gifted, Farrell grew up in England and Ireland. In 1956, during his first term at Oxford, he suffered what seemed a minor injury on the rugby pitch. Within days, however, he was diagnosed with polio, which nearly killed him and left him permanently weakened. Farrell's early novels, which include The Lung and A Girl in the Head, have been overshadowed by his Empire Trilogy--Troubles, the Booker Prize-winning Siege of Krishnapur, and The Singapore Grip (all three are published by NYRB Classics). In early 1979, Farrell bought a farmhouse in Bantry Bay on the Irish coast. "I've been trying to write," he admitted, "but there are so many competing interests-?the prime one at the moment is fishing off the rocks... . Then a colony of bees has come to live above my back door and I'm thinking of turning them into my feudal retainers." On August 11, Farrell was hit by a wave while fishing and was washed out to sea. His body was found a month later. A biography of J.G. Farrell, J.G. Farrell: The Making of a Writerby Lavinia Greacen, was published by Bloomsbury in 1999.

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of many novels, including The Book of Evidence, The Untouchable, and Eclipse. Banville's novel The Sea was awarded the 2005 Man Booker Prize. On occasion he writes under the pen name Benjamin Black.

J. G. Farrell was born in 1935 and died in 1979.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
How does it compare with his "Siege of Krishnapur"?  Nov 6, 2008
Before his Booker Prize winning "The Siege of Krishnapur," Farrell published in 1970-71 what's now joined with "Siege" and the later "The Singapore Grip" as his "Empire Trilogy." While "Siege" (reviewed by me recently on this site US) delineates the collapse of English domination in India as colonists hole up in a makeshift fortress during the 1857 sepoy mutiny, for those in Co. Wexford from 1919-21, during what the Irish call the [Black &] "Tan War" or the struggle for independence, the inhabitants also hunker down as the natives slowly approach, surround, and advance.

Farrell attains an arch delivery that tweaks his own Anglo-Irish sensibility, perhaps. He focuses on one Major Brendan Archer, recently demobilized after WWI. You get nearly nothing about his veteran experiences, but he's haunted by them and seeks to return to a rather diffident fiancée whose family owns the hotel on the Irish coast. The Major wonders about Angela and how before he went back to the front after a leave in 1916 he got so casually committed: "They had been somewhat hysterical-- Angela perhaps feeling amid all the patriotism that she too should have something personal to lose, the Major that he should have at least one reason for surviving." (11)

Later, he sees in rebel Dublin the sight of an IRA man shot: "Abruptly he collapsed inside the sandwich-board, subsided slowly to his knees and hung there, slowly supported by the boards, like an abandoned puppet." (100) There's a bit of needed wryness mixed with compassion, as when the Major's dying aunt recalls the noble demise of a tuberculer Mrs Perry, "whose husband, a ravening brute, had claimed his marital rights until the very end, causing [the aunt] to leave the sick-room for hours at a time, so that very often it would be nearly dawn before she was allowed back to comfort his victim-- who had been uncomplaining, however. Describing this, she would aim black looks back at the Major as if he were responsible." (135)

The steady, if shrouded, insurgency arrives even in sleepy Kilnalough against its rulers, and the Major and his neighbors at the Majestic face, like those in the "Siege," their fate. "It was like putting out to sea in a small boat: with the running of the waves it is impossible to tell how far one has moved over the water; all one can do is look back to see how far one has moved from land. So in the case of Ireland all one could do was to look back from the peaceful days before the war. And they already seemed a long way away." (138) Intriguingly, Farrell follows this passage immediately with a news clipping from an inquiry into one Lord Hunter, about his administration of martial law at Kasur, India.

The Major dawdles. Thwarted in love, "all he could do now was 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." (266) As also in "Siege," pet animals often get poignant moments of their own on stage. Rover the blonde spaniel gets worse and worse along with his owners. Cats fill the upper stories of the hotel as it begins to fall apart. Going blind, Rover used to chase the felines; "as likely as not he would be set upon by an implacable horde of cats and chased up and down the corridors to the brink of exhaustion." Now, he begins to growl at shadows. The metaphor's apparent. "Day by day, no matter how wide he opened his eyes, the cat-filled darkness continued to creep a little closer." (281)

The plot's not what keeps you reading, but this Big House milieu. Farrell, to his credit, takes an early turn away from predictability around a hundred pages in-- this unsettles the rest of the book. It may not work entirely, but it's suited to the melancholic tone that permeates this work. (Derek Mahon's poem "A Disused Shed in County Wexford" was inspired by a late scene here, and he dedicated the verse to Farrell. Unfortunately, Mahon's poem outshines in a few lines all of this novel, which needed trimming easily by half.)

The action, in prose despite such cited moments, moves far too slowly. As with "Siege," much of the interest lies in Farrell's tone and his talent for set-pieces. Here, it's the dual attempted seduction of twins Faith and Charity by Mortimer and Matthews, two Tans, or British auxiliaries, after too much champagne by all and a formidable amount of fabric and fasteners in the form of ladies' undergarments to override. Farrell places such wit within a more symbolic depiction of the Hotel Majestic as it crumbles under fire, the sea, and decay. Its residents find, as in "Siege," their imperial notions of order undermined and while there's more food and arguably better shelter even under the conditions of another insurgency in the territories, there's also far less of the fascinating details that made "Siege" with its discussions of gunnery, cholera, germs, and Victorian ideas of progress so unexpectedly lively.

Here, a few Oxford pacifists suddenly stop by late in the story to lecture us about the background we need for the Irish question, but outside of this, the passive protagonist The Major and his semi-foil, Edward Spencer (note the surname's twist on at least one earlier English interloper) haven't much to occupy your attention during many of the nearly 450 sluggish pages. As even in "Siege," the pacing slows. The most vibrant passages again appear early on, and later, lassitude dominates. Even the denouement lags, a fault shared by "Siege." There's dramatic potential in the climactic scene (don't read John Banville's preface first; it spoils this. One of Banville's first novels itself was "Birchwood", similar in theme and mood to "Troubles" and published about the same time), but the energy even there appears scattered and its presentation disorganized.

So, it's not up to the encyclopedic level of "Siege." It feels like the preparation for that novel which time has proven Farrell's best. Historical news items intersperse with a Big House conceit, a formidable symbol of the threatened Empire, but it's all in the end too neat in its formulations. While I enjoyed sections such as I've shared, I'd select "Siege" as the better achievement of an old bastion under assault by restive revolutionaries bent on destroying their colonial overseers behind such walls.
Excruciatingly funny and profound  Oct 27, 2008
This was one of the most excruciatingly funny books I've read--Farrell takes the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope and heightens it to great comic effect, all the while slyly making his profound political points. A real tour-de-force.
A shadow of a majesty  Jun 24, 2008
The giant decaying Victorian Majestic Hotel in County Wicklow overrun by cats and plants in J. G. Farrell's 1970 historical novel TROUBLES is of course an obvious metaphor for the British Empire itself, falling down upon itself yet still affording its benefactors the appearance of gentility and luxury. Clearly inspired by Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Castle (even down to the army of cats), it's a superb setting for the first in Farrell's "Enmpire" trilogy, and is the setting for all kinds of eccentric characters who seem to be walking in a trance as Ireland shifts towards Independence and republicanism. Unfortunately the machine of the plot causes Farrell much greater difficulty here than in his later book in the trilogy, the Booker Prize-winning THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR: while it's hard to buy from the beginning why his central character Major Brendan Archer would make his way to the Majestic to see his fiancée, it even becomes harder to understand why he stays when he plans to break up with her and then keeps returning after she dies. There are phenomenal set pieces in the book, and the splendidly creepy Gothic setting makes the reading of it worthwhile, but it is perhaps not quite as compelling as it might have been given the weakness of the plot.
Better for Brits  Nov 11, 2007
There's a character type in some English novels that baffles me. This is the socially prominent and clueless male who misses the dynamic of his own life. For an English novelist, Guy Clinch in London Fields or Felix Carbury (among many others) in The Way We Live Now (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (Barnes & Noble Classics) may offer rich satiric possibilities. But for this Yank, such characters are obtuse and ineffectual and, really, just blurs on the page.

In TROUBLES, Liverpool-born J.G. Farrell creates a novel of manners focusing on two such characters: Major Bernard Archer, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I; and Edward Spencer, a John Bull Protestant and proprietor of a once magnificent hotel in Ireland, who we would now recognize as depressed by the death of his wife and daughter. Set in the years 1919 through 1921, Farrell follows these men as they reside or preside at the disintegrating Majestic Hotel. Meanwhile, their class, which then dominated the world, is losing its grip in India, Mesopotamia, South Africa, and especially Ireland.

The title TROUBLES obviously refers to the war between Sinn Fein and the English army of occupation in this period. But this historical Troubles is actually a backdrop to the personal troubles of the Major and Edward, who are both looking for love and locked in psychological combat with their enemies. These personal troubles are the true subject of this book. Thus, to enjoy TROUBLES, a reader has to engage as the Major lives in passive pursuit of Sarah Devlin or Edward lets his property deteriorate. For me, neither of these story lines was persuasive. And, neither was an especially clever and illuminating parallel to the politics of the day. As a result, I read TROUBLES as the story of odd Englishmen who make unbelievable choices.

Further, I think the book was needlessly long, with Farrell actually losing his "troubles focus" for a time and instead exploring the subjects of cross-dressing, sexual ambivalence, and, perhaps, latent homosexuality. This is a feature in the narrative that arises suddenly, when Edward holds a ball at the Majestic. This ball is the great event in the book and Farrell's writing has its greatest fluidity and humor as we follow the Spencer twins and their friend Padraig as they strike a pose. But these are subjects that Farrell wanted to explore. Their relation to the Major or Edward or cat pee or the decline of the Empire is marginal at best. If it weren't so well done, I'd call this long section self-indulgence or padding.

My advice: Read something else.
"Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel  May 22, 2007
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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