Summary

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Last Reviewed on September 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

Troubles is a novel written by J. G. Farrell, a writer of Irish descent born in Liverpool, England. Troubles is the first novel in Farrell’s Empire trilogy, which explores English imperialism and its decline.

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The novel’s main character, Brendan Archer, returns to Ireland in 1919 after fighting for the British Army in World War I. He hopes to find out if he really is engaged to Angela Spencer, the daughter of Edward Spencer, owner of the Majestic Hotel. Archer and Angela met in 1916, when Archer was on leave from trench warfare on the Western Front. Angela has consistently written to him since they met and, through some confusion in their correspondence, may have become his fiancé.

When he arrives in Kilnalough, Ireland, he realizes that his fiancé is different from how she originally appeared, and her family no longer enjoys the wealth they once did. In fact, the greatest symbol of their wealth, the hotel they own, is in decline. The hotel has hundreds of rooms that used to be filled with guests; these rooms are now dilapidated, and only a few of them host guests. Herds of cats have overrun the Imperial Bar and the upper stories of the hotel, bamboo shoots are destabilizing the hotel’s foundation, and piglets play in the squash court. While these problems occur within the hotel grounds, the outside world is embroiled in the first “Troubles”: the Irish War of Independence. The inhabitants of the hotel—including Edward Spencer, the hotel’s owner and Angela’s father—are seemingly out of touch with these issues. They remain staunch unionists, unaware that the vast majority of the population supports independence. Edward, especially, lacks the understanding that the tide is turning and that he is no longer viewed as a kind and generous landlord by the populace but is actually resented by the community. As he settles in, Archer goes from room to room trying to address the issues tearing the hotel apart, settling into a relationship of sorts with Angela as he falls in love with her best friend, Sarah Devlin.

Kilnalough and the Majestic are both fictional and serve as central symbols of the decline of the British Empire. Though the novel is title Troubles, it focuses on the symbolism of the crumbling hotel and the relationships between the people within and immediately around it rather than delving into a direct exploration of the events of the Troubles themselves.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 661

The setting of Troubles is a dilapidated hotel on the Irish Sea, owned by a fierce Anglo-Irishman, Edward Spencer, who has neither the money nor the will to repair the rambling, rotting, three-hundred-room structure. The inhabitants of the hotel, his daughter Angela Spencer, his son, his young twins, a group of elderly ladies, and an ever-increasing horde of cats, are so preoccupied with their own survival in the collapsing building that they are only incidentally aware of the collapse of English rule in Ireland, which is to conclude with the establishment of Ireland as a republic only one year after the end of the novel.

The events of Troubles are seen through the somewhat bemused consciousness of Brendan Archer, who comes to Kilnalough to see Angela, to whom he became engaged three years before, after a slight acquaintance. His initiation into life at the Majestic Hotel leaves him confused. Told to choose a room, he finds one which seems reasonably pleasant, though dusty; unfortunately, he has no sheets, and before long he has a more serious problem, a decaying sheep’s head in his closet. As the days proceed, Angela disappears, and he cannot seem to find out where she is. Inquiries of the servants are met with a language he cannot understand, and he is too well-bred to bother his host. For a man with war nerves, the atmosphere at the Majestic is not ideal, what with a blind grandmother mysteriously appearing out of dark recesses, cats creeping out of homes inside the overstuffed furniture, and occasional terrorist shots and explosions. Archer settles into life at the Majestic, however, patiently waiting for Angela to recover. After two weeks of uncertainty, he goes to Dublin, only to be recalled to Kilnalough with a telegram announcing Angela’s death. Evidently, he was supposed to have known that she had leukemia. So ends Archer’s first Irish romance.

Archer’s second Irish involvement is more intense. Himself rather colorless and uncertain, Archer is naturally drawn to Sarah Devlin, a Roman Catholic girl who at first appears to be crippled but later leaves her wheelchair. The letters which Sarah writes to Archer in London, full of sparkling Kilnalough gossip, draw him back to the rural Irish village and to her. Throughout the rest of the novel, he pursues her, only to be refused the night of the ball because he is too agreeable. Ironically, she marries a Black and Tan captain, rough, crude, and anti-Irish, who could hardly be accused of being too dully pleasant.

As the novel progresses, the terrorist activities become more serious. The occasional shot or barroom fight gives way to attacks on the persons and the property of the English landowners. In the second part of the book, titled “Troubles,” the Spencer estate is besieged by starving peasants, who demand that the land be given to them, refuse to plant crops when it is not, and even irrationally burn crops which Spencer generously promised to donate to them. As threats proceed to acts, the elderly population of the Majestic dwindles. Meanwhile, unhappily, Spencer and Archer have destroyed most of the cats, who have made the upper floors of the hotel a giant litter box but who are promptly replaced by defiant rats. After a great, unsuccessful ball, deserted by the guests before the caterers could prepare the scheduled breakfast, all the residents except Archer leave the hotel. For his stubbornness, Archer almost pays with his life. Captured by Sinn Fein, he is buried in the sand to drown. Fortunately, the last elderly ladies have returned to the Majestic because their train was halted; it is they who find and rescue Archer. Abandoned, the hotel is burned by the seemingly loyal butler, Murphy. The two plot lines fuse in the final scene, when Archer returns to the ruins to rescue the statue of Venus, which he has shipped to England, the only woman whom he succeeds in taking home from Ireland.

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