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(Empire Trilogy #1)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  4,269 ratings  ·  527 reviews
Winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize

1919: After surviving the Great War, Major Brendan Archer makes his way to Ireland, hoping to discover whether he is indeed betrothed to Angela Spencer, whose Anglo-Irish family owns the once-aptly-named Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough. But his fiancée is strangely altered and her family's fortunes have suffered a spectacular decline. The ho
Paperback, 459 pages
Published October 31st 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1970)
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Huck Flynn I agree with Melinda - Siege first chronologically, then Troubles. Both masterpieces in my opinion, Troubles more subtle. They can each be read in iso…moreI agree with Melinda - Siege first chronologically, then Troubles. Both masterpieces in my opinion, Troubles more subtle. They can each be read in isolation and the order doesn't really spoil anything.(less)
Melinda Letts
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Bill Kerwin

I read Troubles because it is an esteemed historical novel, known for its richness of comic incident and irony, a novel which treats a place and period I find fascinating (Ireland during the “War of Independence”), but I ended up loving it for very different reasons: I found it to be--in spite of (or because of?) its dark humor--one of the finest romantic Gothics I have encountered. It is redolent with ironies, of course, but they are ironies darkened by tragic waste.

It begins in 1919, when Brit
Andy Marr
Sep 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Fawlty Towers meets Jane Eyre.

In slow motion.
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
… How should this man proceed? Bail … row … or both?
“Can he make it?”
“Afraid not quite, old chap,” replied Mr Norton with unexpected clarity.
“Ah,” said the Major absently.

J. G. Farrell’s Troubles was awarded the so-called “Lost Man Booker” in 2010. (view spoiler)
Vit Babenco
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What is any hotel? It is a temporal harbour for a tired wayfarer and traveler along the roads of life. But creative mind can turn an hotel into a much greater allegorical thing.
Not far away the two massive, weatherworn gateposts of the Majestic rose out of the impenetrable foliage that lined the sea side of the road. As they passed between them (the gates themselves had vanished, leaving only the skeletons of the enormous iron hinges that had once held them) the Major took a closer look: each on
Troubles—published 50 years ago and set 100 years ago during the Irish war of independence—is an odd duck. A gothic melodrama? A drawing room comedy of manners? Country romance? Political satire? All of the above?

Ah symbolism. The declining British Empire is represented by a crumbling hotel, ironically named The Majestic, which is slowly disintegrating around a party of bored rich people who idle away their days playing cards and drinking tea. The vibe is not so much ‘fading’ grandeur as it is p
Paul Bryant
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, bookers

A light, mordantly mournful comedy of Anglo-Irish manners lazily dawdling from 1919 to 1921 at the pace of an ancient laden donkey featuring a tepid, sad non-romance of pallid mooning and more annoying old ladies than you can shake a zimmer frame at may not sound like your version of a good time. It didn’t sound like mine. I had it in mind to read the first 100 pages and sling it. Just to get it off my shelf. Because really, it’s nearly 500 pages and it has no plot, if by plot you refer to somet
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Troubles is the first novel in the Anglo-Irish writer JG Farrell's Empire Trilogy: three tangentially connected works that highlight different facets of British colonialism. Farrell died young, as he drowned at the age of 44, but this 1970 book got some semi-recent attention when it won the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010, which was established to retroactively honor a book that missed out on being eligible for the Booker due to a rule change that year. So when you pick up Troubles with all that i ...more

What with Brexit, Megxit, and the potential dissolution of the United Kingdom it seemed high time to turn to J.G Farrell's Empire Trilogy to gain some historical perspective. 
Troubles is set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence of 1919, but almost the entire story takes place within the confines of The Majestic Hotel. This once proud institution is really the main character in the novel, a faded beauty, now in ruinous decline. The book is full of vivid descriptions of this spraw
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Farrell skewers - as well as anyone, even his apparent idols, Waugh and Dickens - the entitled-inert buffoon, the pompously lazy wastrel, the conceited intolerant gammon, the shellshocked, inarticulate, fearful manchild who has never had to try or is already spent, cannot discuss what ails him and really just wants to be left alone to mumble inconsequential gripes as everything disintegrates, yet keeps getting drawn into nonsensical intrigues he is ill-equipped to negotiate. Here the setup makes ...more
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
J. G. Farrell’s Troubles is a modern classic, blending farce, humor, deadly serious politics, and idiosyncratic characters. The most memorable and idiosyncratic character in Trouble’s wonderful cast is the AJESTIC itself, a once majestic and now decrepit hotel even more memorable than the California of several years later. I’ve read Troubles thrice over almost fifty years, and I’ve appreciated and enjoyed it more with each reading.
Fawlty Towers meets The Shadow of a Gunman

Recently I mentioned to a bibliophile friend that I liked books that trouble me. So you would think that anything entitled Troubles would be made to measure, the perfect fit. But what I meant was trouble in the sense of disquiet, something that sets up a mild irritation of the spirit and questions complacent assumptions. A niggle, a nagging doubt that my world view might be too narrow, harnessed to the commonplace and too jaded to buck free. That's what
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
"Troubles" is the story of Ireland 1919 to 1921, the Irish and the Anglo-Irish and the British, and how they ultimately can't all live together under the terms of the past. It is seen through the eyes of a shell-shocked British veteran, the Major, come to the Majestic Hotel in County Wexford to disabuse a young woman of the notion they may be affianced. He doesn't recall more than polite conversations during leave.

From there the alternately comic and tragic story moves with the "troubles" that b
This was the winner of the retrospective "Lost Booker", and the first part of Farrell's empire trilogy, which also includes The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip. It is set in Ireland during the upheavals of independence and is a very funny satire set in a decaying mansion. Like all of Farrell's later books it is perceptive and sardonic - if you like this one I would strongly recommend reading The Singapore Grip.

Note that this is not a book I have read recently - I have just been adding
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
As far as I could tell, no horses were injured or killed in the telling of this tale of colonial Ireland just after the First World War. The same can not be said for the hundreds of cats who gave their lives: in one singular marmalade-colored instance, a retributive throttling for assaulting an old woman's hat; dozens more somehow unable to outwit some very bad slapstick shooting; and perhaps the remainder in a final conflagration, although, who knows, maybe they landed on their paws from a thre ...more
Many reviews already written of this fine novel set during the time of "The Troubles" in Ireland. Events play out at the Majestic Hotel owned by the delightfully eccentric Spencer family. Major Brendan Archer a casualty of the Great War finds himself unwittingly involved in the inhabitants of the Majestic and it's guests.

I found this initially a difficult book to get into but have to admit that the plot and characters did grow on me and I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. There are pockets of hum
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
With exquisite writing from beginning to end, it was a pleasure to make my slow progress through these pages. J. G. Farrell works wonders with his extended descriptive passages. His careful application of language - which he weaves into a rich tapestry that often mesmerizes - is perhaps his greatest strength. That tapestry eventually hopped off the wall and wrapped itself around me. On that basis alone, I might give this 5 stars, but there is more than lovely linguistics to any great novel.

May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Through much of my reading of this, especially as the story progresses and gets darker, the refrain of Fun Boy Three's "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)" ran through my head. In the novel, though, the lunatics haven't taken over the 'asylum,' 'they' have always run it, the craziness of the main so-called caretaker becoming more and more apparent as the "troubles' increase. The ending is inevitable.

This is sharp satire, an overarching analogy within a reality. It's a bit long-winded and
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the funniest and saddest books I've ever read. After World War I, Major Brendan Archer heads to Ireland to see a young woman he might or might not be engaged to, based on a series of letters they wrote to each other. But it turns out she's not quite the woman he was expecting. Still he stays there, in an old run-down hotel, and his interactions with the other inhabitants, including another woman he becomes enamored with, are worth the price of admission alone. All this is set agai ...more
I know that in order to attempt to appear intelligent I should pretend to love this book but I din't. It was well written, well researched, and an important topic. In my opinion it was so heavy laden with symbolism that the people seemed stilted. At about 500 pages it seemed over long especially considering how horribly sad the characters and circumstances were though I suppose it was true to life at that time. ...more
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of Farrell’s Empire Trilogy. This story is comical, ironic and tragic. Major Brendan Archer after recovering from shell shock he got during WW1 has made his way to Ireland. During a fling in Brighton with Angela Spencer he thinks he is betrothed to Angela Spencer who wrote him letters and called herself his fiancée.

Her family own the Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough. A once grand hotel but now slowly falling apart. There are few guests aside from some genteel elderly ladies with n
A humorous satire on the final years of British rule in Ireland. The Nationalist cause doesn't escape the author's sharp pen either. ...more
3.5 stars

I wasn’t in a head space to properly appreciate this book. Whenever I would pick it up, I could read along quite happily. However, when I set it down it was always an effort to pick it back up. What can I say, life is complicated right now. I’m in the process of retirement, which takes more energy than I thought it would. We’ve been having mail issues and water issues at my condo complex. I’ve spent time cat-sitting for my cousin and have been away from home (thankfully during most of t
Lawrence Windrush
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This is my first review and what better way to start than James Farrells Troubles.
I was lucky to come across a 1970 first edition of this in a charity shop for a few pounds, it's worth more than £400 now.

It's one of the most original novels I have ever read. It's very elusive and subtle, at first it's a humorous social political historical novel but then it morphs into something completely darker and surreal. It charts Major Brendon Archer's supposed engagement to Angela Spencer, the daughter
3 stars because I can objectively see that this is a good book, although it was not for me. Some interesting moments of discussion about the Irish War of Independence, but ultimately a book/person mismatch.
Jun 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
Funny, tragic, occasionally dragging yes, but thoroughly absorbing as if a grand old novel had been salted with a good dose of modern comic timing. Reading the second in the trilogy now, and it is tighter and better still. Will be sad when this done
Jun 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Imagine Henry James collaborating with the macabre cartoonist Charles Addams, with a droller version of Joseph Heller serving as war consultant, and you begin to get an idea of the tone of this captivating novel. Through the first 100 pgs or so it can seem like nothing more than a well-written novel of manners covering familiar territory of upperclass, "the quality," holding on to pretense of gentility(though the discovery of a rotting sheep's head in nightstand drawer early on is a pretty good ...more
Three and a half stars, really.
Came to this, and its title, thinking that it would be a lot more political than it is. That the era(s) of conflict in Ireland, now euphemized by all parties as 'The Troubles'-- pointed toward that direction. Fact is, what we have is a nearly sentimental account of the characters and atmosphere in a very select little locale that happens to find itself in the south of Ireland on the seacoast. During the expansion of the Troubles in the early twenties.

What author

So meh that I can barely summon a meh-ness rating for it, and no desire to write a review.

Maybe the satire just isn't hitting me right now, but to use Farrell's own words, "I plunged the depths of boredom" while trying to read this. To be fair, I skimmed most of it after the first 100 pages, looking for connection. Couldn't find one. To add another element of fairness: it's very rare that satire works for me. Unless it's exceptional, like Swift, it's wasted on me.

Booker-or-bust: mostly o
A totally delicious read, a combination of history and irony. Farrell's writing style is so visual, that I feel that I have been living in the Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough myself for the past month.

The protagonist of the book, British Major Archer, stays in Ireland and in the Majestic without any real purpose (although there was a purpose to his arrival in the beginning), and it's only one of the many absurdities surrounding the lives of the characters of the book. The Majestic, a metaphor to th
Cathal Kenneally
Major Brendan Archer travels to Ireland in search of love but only finds heartbreak and a whole lot more besides. He falls in love with a dilapidated hotel that has seen better decades whatever about days! He refuses to leave even though the British are unwelcome. Set against the background of a backdrop of a dark period in Ireland’s history; Troubles sums up the feelings amongst the people even if they are not expressed in any great length. The Major like any soldier refuses to be cowed by the ...more
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Reading the 20th ...: This topic has been closed to new comments. Troubles by J.G. Farrell (July 2021) 1 13 Apr 26, 2021 08:25AM  
Goodreads Ireland: Spoiler Thread: Troubles 16 34 Feb 07, 2014 04:00AM  
Goodreads Ireland: Novembver-January Quarterly Irish Read 2013: Troubles 73 40 Jan 07, 2014 01:09AM  
NYRB Classics: Troubles, by J.G. Farrell 1 10 Oct 30, 2013 09:03PM  
Poe? 5 26 Aug 27, 2012 12:50PM  

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James Gordon Farrell, known as J.G. Farrell, was a Liverpool-born novelist of Irish descent. Farrell gained prominence for his historical fiction, most notably his Empire Trilogy (Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip), dealing with the political and human consequences of British colonial rule. The Siege of Krishnapur won the 1973 Booker Prize. On 19 May 2010 it was announced th ...more

Other books in the series

Empire Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Siege of Krishnapur
  • The Singapore Grip

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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
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“Surely there’s no need to abandon one’s reason simply because one is in Ireland.” 5 likes
“And everyone would climb the stairs chuckling to their rooms and dream of aces and knaves and a supply of trumps that would last for ever and ever, one trump after another, an invincible superiority subject to neither change nor decay nor old age, for a trump will always be a trump, come what may.” 0 likes
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