Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Troubles by J.G. Farrell

by J.G. Farrell
1 star - Just not my thing

I'm sure this is a perfectly fine book. I even thought I was kind of enjoying it. But after about 130 pages I said to myself "what if you stopped reading" and the sense of relief was great, so there you go.

J.G. Farrell is a wonderful writer. I can't fault the writing or the creativity. I suppose I should have been warned when I couldn't get through the introduction by John Banville (another excellent author whose works, sadly,  just don't resonate with me). 

It is an odd feeling to be enjoying the author and simultaneously finding the actual book tedious.

Here's an example that I tagged early on to show how delightful the writing is.

These visits normally took a long time. The reason was that Dr. Ryan, however alert his mind, had to cope with a body so old and worn out as to be scarcely animate. Watching him climb the stairs towards his patient was like watching the hands of a clock; he moved so slowly that he might not have been moving at all. One day the Major saw him on his way upstairs, clinging to the banister as a snail clings to the bark of a tree. After he had smoked a cigarette and glanced through the newspaper he happened to pass through the foyer again and there was the doctor, still clinging to the banister and still apparently not moving, but nevertheless much nearer the top. The Major shook his head and hoped that it was not an emergency

That's really great, right? But not enough to sustain me for over 400 pages.

J.G. Farrell won the Booker prize. Not sure if it was for this volume or not (and I'm currently too lazy to check).

I'll give you the summary off the back.

1919. After surviving the Great War, Major Breendan 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 fiancee is strangely altered and her family's fortunes have suffered a spectacular decline. The hotel's hundreds of rooms are disintegrating on a grand scale; its few remaining guests thrive on rumors and games of whist; herds of cats have taken over the Imperial Bar and the upper stories; bamboo shoots threaten the foundations; and piglets frolic in the squash court. Meanwhile, the Major is captivated by the beautiful and bitter Sarah Devlin. As housekeeping disasters force him from room to room, outside the order of the British Empire also totters; there is unrest in the East and in Ireland itself the mounting violence of "the Troubles."

The good news is that I did realize how ignorant I was of the history of Ireland, so I did a quick online search and now I know more about all of that, so not a total loss.


  1. Wow. Um. The summary would probably have been enough to convince me to put the book back on the shelf and call it a day. Given my Irish heritage (mother's side), I know a depressing amount about Irish history, and generally avoid it. (Well, the medieval stuff is cool, but pretty much once the Brits showed up, I gave up.) On a totally unrelated note, I am listening to 'Gone With the Wind' (why? well, it's 50+ hours of recorded book) and I STILL want to smack Scarlett upside the head. I realize she's a teenager, but What. A. Bitch. And on an even more unrelated note, I cannot make it through William Gibson's 'Difference Engine' - I thought I might try the steampunk thing and it's just not working for me. It may be time to retreat to Harry Potter... No piglets in the squash courts there. Possibly on the quidditch pitch, but not the squash court... ;-)

    -Dr. Liz, and not Fiona the dog, who doesn't like Scarlett either.

  2. HAHA Liz! I've not re-read GWTW in a long time, but I had a similar experience re-reading Wuthering Heights. What despicable characters...

    I like the excerpt you shared, and it SEEMS interesting from the dust jacket write-up...I may have to at least skim it a little...

    I'm having trouble similar to yours getting through Get Shorty. I like your question, "what if I just stopped reading this?" I feel the same relief! DONE!! Life's too short as my mother used to say.

  3. Ha ha ha herds of cats! Although the book sounds rather less entertaining than the insurance commercial or whatever it was where the cowboys actually were trying to herd cats ...