Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 8, 2020

Troubles (1970), by J G Farrell, winner of The Lost Booker Prize, 1970

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, cross-posting my reviews from The Complete Booker.
To see my progress with completing the Complete Booker Challenge, see here.

Troubles, by J G Farrell, was the retrospective winner of the Lost Booker Prize in 1970.

July 7th, 2003

Troubles is the predecessor to The Siege of Krishnapur which won the Booker, and this one won the Faber Memorial Prize in 1970 (and posthumously, the Lost Booker Prize, one which has zero credibility with me because it was determined by popular vote).

Troubles is not as good as The Siege of Krishnapur, but it’s very good in parts. It’s set in Ireland just after WW1 when the Troubles were just beginning. Major Bernard Archer goes to the ill-named and shabby Majestic Hotel (a symbol of the declining British Empire) to sort out an intemperate engagement but ends up falling in love with the place despite – or perhaps because of – its eccentricities.

Angela conveniently dies of leukaemia, but it doesn’t matter much because neither of them cared about each other anyway.   For the major, it’s all a matter of behaving well, like an English gentleman should.  Just like Edward, the owner, whose eccentricity declines into madness as the IRA ‘outrages’ come closer to home, till he can’t ignore them any more.

Why does the major ‘take on’ the Majestic?  It’s falling to bits (and Farrell goes into overdrive with the farce, with hordes of cats and the vines taking over the bar).  Not unlike the Empire, it’s a drain on the purse, but he has become fond of it.  He also falls in love with Sarah, who’s really not very nice – but her characterisation isn’t consistent, vacillating (due to a surprising lack of authorial control) between droll humorist to nasty cynic, an adventuress and a cripple playing for sympathy.  She deserves to end up with Bolton, though like the major, I don’t like his violence towards her.  I guess she’s a symbol of the violence the Empire doled out to the possessions it ‘loved’.

Farrell does quite a good job of depicting both sides of a sordid story – though at times he overdoes the didacticism.  I can’t quite visualise Edward’s Oxford guests lecturing him on the need to look at the other fellow’s point-of-view – it doesn’t seem consistent with a gentlemanly background.   Having said that, one of the themes is the way young people don’t subscribe to the old ways of behaving.  They’re all a bit ‘fast’, quite rude, and not at all grateful.

Still, it’s an entertaining book, except for the final atrocities, which are horrible.

I read and journalled this book on 4/7/2003.


  1. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    As far as I can discern JGF is a fine writer. Interesting to compare with Elizabeth Bowen. The English have a huge lapse of memory with respect to Ireland.


    • JGF had a great interest in British colonialism. I would suggest that The Siege of Krishnapur would also be a very good one to read.


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