In 1970 the rules of the prestigious Booker Prize for literature changed and as such, it was not awarded that year. In April 2010 a popular jury awarded the “Lost Man Booker Prize” to J.G. Farrell for his novel Troubles.
When I finally put Troubles down, Sandra asked me if it had a good ending. I said “no” and she thought I hadn’t enjoyed it. That isn’t right at all. It is a tour-de-force, a masterpiece of the novelists art. It just doesn’t end “well”. How could it afterall? It is set in the Ireland of the period that begins just after the end of World War One and finishes just before Irish independence. I time of seething unrest, random murders and terrorist outrages.
Brendan Archer is still a young man but old in terms of experience. A retired Major, he survives the trenches of France but returnes to England shell-shocked. After spending another year in hospital “recovering”, he finally travels to Ireland where his “fiance” Angela is waiting for him. She lives in the huge and crumbling Majestic hotel, run by her half-crazy father Edward. It is here that Brendan meets Sarah, a young friend of Angela’s and henceforward the story is a dance between three of the characters.
Central to the book is the Majestic itself. the hotel is vast, in terminal decline, with a staff as inefficient as the plumming and a set of ancient resident ladies who call it “home”. It is full of faded glories, dry rot, overgrown orchards and a squash court made to do service as a pigsty. It also serves as an analogy to the position of the British in Ireland and the outragous weather, blasting the stone walls and ripping slates of the roof, to the repressed fury of the Irish, finally finding voice.
I could believe in the characters. The profound blank at the centre of the character’s understanding of sexuality, their expectations of “good manners”, “decent” behaviour and acceptance of hidebound world of rules and manners at the point of collapse.
A review I read before picking up the book said it was like Faulty Towers, written by Evelyn Waugh. I don’t think that is true. Waugh was far too cynical to have written so delicately. Mind you, it would have been interesting to have seen what his take on catholicism would have been. The influence of the church is everywhere and relgious belief clouds even the simplist relationships.
Like Birds Without Wings by Louie de Berniers it covers that same period of chaos and helped me fill in another blank in my knowledge of history. I recommend this book as a good read. Buy it now!