Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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.

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