by J.G. Farrell
J.G. Farrell is a tantalizing "what-if" of 20th century literature, a noted novelist who died very young leaving behind three novels. Two of them won the Booker Prize. Troubles won the so-called "Lost" Booker, awarded in 2010 in recognition of a change in the rules that omitted novels published during the calendar year of 1970. The Siege of Krishnapur won in 1972. Both books are part of his Empire trilogy, which are linked thematically to the subject of the British Empire and its impact on characters struggling to maintain the periphery.
Troubles, the first book in the trilogy, covers Farrell's home turf of Ireland, and specifically the plight of the Anglo-Irish landowners during the Irish War for Independence between 1919 and 1922. Englishman Major Brendan Archer, called "Major" throughout the book, returns from active duty on the Western Front of World War I with a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder and vague promises to a "fiance" who is located in a decrepit resort hotel owned by her Anglo-Irish father on the west coast of Ireland. This hotel, the Majestic, is itself a memorable character, and the decline of the hotel grows in importance as the initial set-up, between the Major and his sick fiance, recedes into the distance mid way through the first act.
Troubles is both funny and wise. It embraces enough of the conventions of the British country house novel to make the reader comfortable, but subverts those expectations with a sophisticated critique of English imperial ambition, embodied here by Edward Spencer, owner of the Majestic and proud subject of the crown. Spencer is a monster, but he is a sympathetic monster who is constrained by the traditions he has internalized.