by J G Farrell
It is 1919 and a shell-shocked Major Brendan Archer, late of the British Army, travels to Ireland to be with Angela the fiancée he hardly knows.
Full of trepidation Brendan arrives at the ironically named Majestic Hotel, which is run by Angela's father Edward Spencer, a conservative Protestant loyalist.
The Major, however, is greeted by no one upon his arrival at the hotel desk, and he must find his own way to the Palm Court, "a vast, shadowy cavern in which…beds of oozing mould supported banana and rubber plants, hairy ferns, elephant grass and creepers that dangled from above like emerald intestines."
The 300 room hotel, lacking maintenance during the war and its aftermath, is now too costly to repair, and it is rapidly becoming a ruin as the number of British tourists and summer guests dwindles during the early stages of the Irish rebellion, and the number of elderly permanent guests, unable to pay their rent, remains the same. The hotel's cats take up residence in the Imperial Bar and the residents have to move from room to room as the place crumbles around them.
Sinn Fein attacks occur in and around the property, but they are, at first, merely minor inconveniences and annoyances, and the reader, like the residents at the hotel, never sees any of the revolutionaries up close.
Angela proves distant and elusive and Brendan's plans to take her back to England diminish. Despite the claustrophobic and depressing atmosphere, and the lack of an immediate betrothal, the Major remains at the hotel, off and on, for three years, as it begins, literally, to fall around the ears of the inhabitants, and the rebellions and incursions by local farmers and "Shinners" become more ominous.
This book is sad and humorous by turns and beautifully evokes a lost period of quiet gentility but our sympathies are divided and the inevitability and the need for Irish independence is always apparent.
J.G. Farrell died in 1979 at the age of 44. His novel The Siege of Krishnapur won the Booker Prize in 1973.