As a companion to our Dead Dames series, I thought I’d sneak in a quick blog to celebrate dead dude J.G. Farrell, who last month posthumously won The Lost Man-Booker prize. A change to the Booker prize rules resulted in titles published in 1970 being ineligible for consideration, but forty years later Farrell beat out literary luminaries Muriel Spark, Nina Bawden, Shirley Hazzard, Patrick White and Mary Renault to collect the big prize with his novel The troubles.
Sadly, James Gordon Farrell died in 1979 after a comparatively brief career which saw him win both the Booker Prize in 1973 with The siege of Krishnapur, and The Faber Memorial Prize in 1971, also for The troubles. Best known for his historical fiction, The Singapore Grip was prescribed reading in my Colonial History course at Edinburgh University, Farrell’s early novels tackled a variety of topics; Martin Sands, the central character in The Lung (1965) had like Farrell contracted polio and been forced to spend long, gloomy periods recuperating in hospital, while A girl in the head (1967) featured a Nabokovian character called Boris, and was set in a fictional English seaside town.
Farrell drowned while fishing near his home at Bantry Bay in Cork. An editor acquaintance James Hale said “the memorial service was full of the best looking women in publishing”, a charming but perhaps meaningless observation on a creative life cut cruelly short.
For more on J.G Farrell’s life, Lavinia Greacen’s biography is worth a peek, so too is Farrell’s unfinished novel The hill station; while only 19 chapters and fifty-thousand words, it gives an indication of what would have been the next step in his literary story.