Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Flagging behind Cornflower's book group, I have just finished the Lost Man Booker Prize-winning novel Troubles, by JG Farrell.
I had a nagging feeling that I might have read this back in the 1970s. I had a strange sense of déjà vu about the Majestic Hotel and yet even by the end I couldn't decide if I was only imagining that I'd read it once before. In fact, that slightly disoriented 'what am I doing here?' feeling is rather appropriate to the mood of the book.
You'll either find Troubles achingly funny ... or you'll be bored to irritation by its melancholy pace. Major Brendan Archer is still traumatised by his experiences in the trenches when he arrives in Ireland to claim the young woman he acquired as his fiancée in a fit of characteristic vagueness while he was on leave. By now it is 1919 and the Irish countryside is overrun by Sinn Feiners and Black and Tans. Angela's father Edward Spencer, loyalist to his teeth, is the owner of the Majestic Hotel that serves as a metaphor for the decrepit British Empire. The Majestic is a tour de force ... inhabited by old ladies smelling of lavender and mothballs, overrun by feral cats and brought to the point of collapse by every kind of rot and the blanched, hairy roots of overgrown vegetation in the Palm Court. The Major is soon released from his engagement but months pass and a terrible inertia keeps him living (in hysterically funny discomfort) at the Majestic.
It took me a long time to read this novel .. well, a week, which is slow-going for me ... and eventually I realised the sheer skill of Farrell's construction. There's no chapters, the only breaks are intermittent news reports from elsewhere in the crumbling Empire ... and like Major Archer, all you can do is read on, carried forward by inertia, unable to extricate yourself from the Majestic Hotel. Very clever. And very funny.


kristina said...

Have been debating whether to read this one. Will give it a go!

K x

mary said...

I'm sure you'll love the descriptions of the hotel, Kristina.

Darlene said...

I have yet to read anything by this author but you've made this one sound quite tempting, Mary!

I've pulled out my copy of A Game of Hide and Seek to read once I've finished Illyrian Spring. It's Cornflower's book for November...are you in?

mary said...

I've read it before, Darlene, but it's probably my favourite Elizabeth Taylor, so I'm very tempted to read it again.