1919: After surviving the Great War, Major Brendan 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 fiancée 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."
I wasn’t in a head space to properly appreciate this book. Whenever I would pick it up, I could read along quite happily. However, when I set it down it was always an effort to pick it back up. What can I say, life is complicated right now. I’m in the process of retirement, which takes more energy than I thought it would. We’ve been having mail issues and water issues at my condo complex. I’ve spent time cat-sitting for my cousin and have been away from home (thankfully during most of the water issues). I’m preparing for a trip to France. The washer in my building is out of order and I desperately need to do laundry. And do you know, when you announce that you’re retiring, you suddenly get coffee & lunch dates galore!
So, I’m easily distracted by shiny objects right now, and this book deserves more attention than I was able to give it. It’s a shame that the author died as young as he did, because I have a feeling that he would have produced more & better.
There were so many details that amused me—the colony of cats inhabiting one of the bars (and the abortive attempt to get rid of them later), the plethora of dogs also roaming the hotel premises, the overgrown palm garden room requiring a machete from time to time. Mostly the complete benign neglect with which the Majestic Hotel was just allowed to fall to pieces bit by bit.
The hotel seemed to represent the British Empire—something old, decrepit, and bordering on useless. The Irish weather was gradually tearing it down, just as the IRA was gradually wearing down the British attempts to rule in Ireland. Its owner, Edward Spencer, guards his statue of Queen Victoria, looks down his nose at his Irish neighbours, and fights a losing battle against Irish Republicanism. Major Brendan Archer, who came to the Majestic to sort out a possible engagement to Edward’s daughter, Angela, finds himself trying to temper Spencer’s behaviour and to encourage him to pay more attention to the hotel’s structure. The novel recounts the troubles experienced by the denizens of the Majestic, which mirror the Troubles between England and Ireland—was ever a conflict so misnamed? Troubles sounds minor, but this conflict was anything but.
Everyone has mixed emotions and divided loyalties. There’s no happy solution to anything. There are some amusements along the way, but I found this to be a very sad book, not that there could have been any other conclusion.