Dead Dudes: J.G. Farrell 1935-1979

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.

Lost Man Booker Prize

manThe Lost Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on 25 March 2010.

Why a Lost Man Booker? In 1971 the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became a prize for the best novel of the year of publication:

At the same time the award moved from April to November and, as a result, a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 fell through the net and was never considered for the prize.  Now, 40 years on, a panel of three judges – all of whom were born in or around 1970 – has been appointed to select a shortlist of six novels from that year.

The reading public get to decide the winner of The Lost Man Booker. The public vote closed at midday on Friday 30 April. The overall winner will be announced on 19 May 2010.