Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Troubles' by J.G. Farrell

The recent 'Lost' Man Booker Prize for 1970 (occasioned by the absence of an award for books published that year due to rules changes) prompted a chance to discover or rediscover an outstanding selection of fiction from 40 years ago. The clear winner of was J.G. Farrell for Troubles. Farrell in fact did win in 1973 with The Siege of Krishnapur, before his tragic accidental death in Ireland in 1979.

Troubles, however, is surely his masterpiece: set in the appalling Majestic Hotel in the south-east of Ireland in 1919, the events are largely seen through the eyes of the straight-laced English officer Major Brendan Archer, traumatised during the Great War. Archer ends up in Ireland because he seems to have become engaged, almost accidentally, to the daughter of the hotel's owner. It is the two men's relationship which becomes central. The main character, however, is the hotel itself, a vast crumbling edifice inhabited by elderly ladies and an increasingly aggressive population of cats. Before the latter parts of the book turn to a darker shade, Troubles is relentlessly funny (for instance, in the brilliant whist set-piece). Line after line it is superbly written, and it's a perfect book with which to treat yourself this summer.

Incidentally, Derek Mahon's great poem 'A Disused Shed in County Wexford', frequently studied for the Leaving Certificate, is dedicated to Farrell. Mahon's poem evokes the 'lost people' of history.

No comments: