Best Book of the Week!
It is the summer of 1919. Major Brendan Archer has just left the hospital after his experiences in the trenches of France. When on leave in 1916, he met Angela Spencer. Although he has no recollection of having asked her to marry him, she has ever since then written him exhaustive letters signed “Your loving fiancée.” Determined to find out if he is engaged, the Major travels to the Majestic, Angela’s family hotel in County Wicklow, Ireland.
Troubles is about the decline of the once powerful Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Nothing symbolizes this decline quite as effectively as the state of the Majestic. Once a grand resort hotel, the Majestic is now the crumbling permanent home for a handful of old ladies who knew it from their heyday.
The Palm Court is so overgrown that it gets more and more difficult to find the chairs. No staff is visible when Archer checks in, and he is finally vaguely shown around by Ripon, Angela’s brother, who urges him to pick a room. When Archer retires, he finds his bed has no sheets, and his investigation of a sickly smell leads to the discovery of a sheep’s head in a pot in his room. Most frustrating, though, is that he can find no opportunity to speak to Angela, who shortly after his arrival shuts herself up in her room.
Major Archer soon finds himself drawn into the activities and personalities of the household. Angela’s father Edward seems unconcerned about the increasing decrepitude of the house. He occupies himself with projects such as raising piglets in the squash court or conducting bizarre experiments in “biological research.” He is most concerned with preventing Ripon from marrying the daughter of a merchant, whom Ripon has made pregnant. Edward’s objection? She is Catholic.
It is the time leading up to the partition of Ireland, with events that 40 years later will result in The Troubles. To Edward’s way of thinking, along with most of his class, those who want independence from Britain are nothing but hooligans. He refuses to recognize that his impoverished and desperate tenants have legitimate grievances.
The growing sense of dissolution both in Ireland and—periodically interjected by newspaper articles—in other parts of the British Empire keeps the novel from being simply a comedy such as Cold Comfort Farm. That, and Farrell’s writing style of cool and precise satire. As poor Major Archer bumbles in a well-meaning way through the political briars and Edward becomes more detached from reality, the Majestic slides perceptibly into ruin.
This is another book from my Classics Club list.