Tobias Hill: Weighty themes, handled with wit: new Farrell readers are in for a treat

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The Independent Online

Wit, that quality which enriches the very best writing, is one of the great virtues of Troubles. By wit I do not mean that it is laugh-out-loud funny – although it is – but that a keenness and sharpness of perception pervade the whole book. Farrell's themes are weighty but he is light on his feet.

Troubles never plods. Although not a page turner, it is very hard to put down. His great subject is the death of empire and he is sublime on the Irish character. But where he is outstanding is in the sympathy with which he examines this demise.

His shell-shocked English soldier goes to Ireland and is disarmed, then bewildered, by the country – and then falls in love before finally being defeated by it. He cares very much for his people, although he laughs at everyone. Farrell's is not an anti-English novel – more a thoughtful examination of his subject.

Troubles stands up at every stage. It has a fine beginning and a brilliant ending, and is sustained throughout by this wit, laughter and intelligence.

One of the great pluses of the Lost Man Booker is that it will introduce new readers to the works of J G Farrell, who died in 1979 at a time when there was nothing like the amount of marketing and publicity that we have today.

When he died there was a general feeling that he was about to become a global literary figure, and even talk of a Nobel Prize in the future.

The author Tobias Hill was a judge on the Lost Man Booker Prize panel