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JG Farrell

The Making of a Writer

by Lavinia Greacen

Publication Year: 2012

This new, expanded edition of the widely praised biography of the Booker Prize-winning author JG Farrell is timely. His literary achievement is still in the ascendent, as proved by the posthumous award in 2010 of the ‘Lost’ Booker for ‘Troubles’, decided by international e-vote. That made him a double Booker winner, and the publicity given to his renowned Empire Trilogy novels has left the general reading public wanting to know more. Lavinia Greacen has uncovered fresh material and additional photographs since the publication of the first edition, shedding further light on Farrell’s short life and tragic death, as well as the development of his writing career. The result is a fascinating and compelling story about the man described by the latest Estudios Irlandeses as ‘one of the English language’s most accomplished and enigmatic figures’.The life of the novelist J.G. Farrell (1935 – 1979) is almost stranger than fiction. He was a schoolboy sporting hero struck down by polio, a dedicated writer living on a shoestring who was awarded the Booker Prize in 1973, and, with his literary reputation secure and a newly-converted house on the scenic west Cork coastline, he was drowned at the age of 44 while fishing from rocks nearby. This expanded biography, interweaving letters and interviews from sources previously unknown, tells the moving story of his peripatetic life. It ranges from his childhood in Ireland to public school and university in England; from his base in London, where most of his novels took shape, to extended stays in France and the United States, and to periods spent in Mexico, India, Vietnam and Singapore. Readers will discover that Farrell’s celebrated Empire Trilogy, which includes Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip, reflects his own travels and personal experiences, as well as his unique wit and imagination. This biography reveals the very private man behind the celebrated literary novelist. ‘After reading it’, wrote Gerald Dawe, Senior Lecturer in English at Trinity College, Dublin, ‘I felt not only that I knew J.G. Farrell, but that I, too, mourned his loss as if he were a friend.’

Published by: Cork University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi

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pp. xii-xviii

Since the publication of the first edition of this biography, fresh attention has been drawn to the novels of J.G. Farrell, culminating in the 2010 award of the ‘Lost’ Booker to Troubles, with its gentle hero, the Major. ‘Something very special..

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pp. xix-xxii

Lavinia Greacen begins and ends her dramatic and moving narrative with a description of how Jim Farrell, the finest novelist of recent times, drowned in Bantry Bay on Saturday 11 August 1979, at the age of forty..

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pp. xxiii-xxvii

‘Dublin Ireland. Aug. 14’ began the 1979 Reuters report carried by newspapers worldwide. ‘Author J.G. Farrell, 43, who won literary fame for his novels about the British Empire, is believed to have drowned...

Part One

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pp. 1

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CHAPTER ONE At the Centre of a Vast Empire

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pp. 3-13

Had it not been for the sea, J.G. Farrell’s parents would never have met. It was aboard the SS Ranchi, cruising the North Sea off Norway in 1929, that they were introduced, and they became unofficially engaged...

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CHAPTER TWO The Vanished Comfort and Security of Earlier Days 1935–1947

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pp. 14-25

James Gordon Farrell was born during the bleakest period of his parents’ lives. The pregnancy was proceeding without complications with a nursing home booked for the end of February, when on 25 January...

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CHAPTER THREE Run Very Fast, Very Fast Indeed 1947–1952

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pp. 26-41

The sea, again; this time the Irish Sea. There was a re alignment of family influence in the aftermath of the war, because when passage to Ireland was no longer hindered by U-boats and military controls the Russells came into focus, exerting a persuasive pull. Bob Russell’s aged appearance...

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CHAPTER FOUR The Yearning, the Boredom the Heartache 1952–1955

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pp. 42-54

‘Blue eyes, light skin, thick dark hair, very white teeth and this lovely smile. You knew when Jim was having fun by the smile. I thought he was the handsomest man in the whole world and I was crazy about him. It was just too wonderful to touch his hand.’ Jill Kirwan was sixteen...

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CHAPTER FIVE A Ballistic Missile 1955–1956

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pp. 55-67

The small plane owned by the Foundation Company of Canada headed for Baffin Bay in the northern arctic, and crossed the tree line: the point of no return. Inside, Jim was squeezed in with the latest intake of migrant workers, and musing with silent irony on the link between...

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CHAPTER SIX In Human Affairs, Things Tend Inevitably to Go Wrong 1956–1957

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pp. 68-84

The telegram – ‘Your son James Farrell is in the Slade Hospital with polio and is going tonight into an Iron Lung’ – was on the mat at Balholm when Jo got home on 3 December from a tiring day of Christmas shopping. All flights had left, tickets for the 8.45pm mailboat were sold only...

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CHAPTER SEVEN The Beauty of the Cold Season 1957–1958

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pp. 85-103

The spring of 1957 was exceptionally overcast, and the heavy weight of sky imposed a mood of greyness and gloom. It was the most depressing climate for a fightback, but Jim began as he meant to go on. Brushing...

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CHAPTER EIGHT Water Becoming Hard Ice 1959–1960

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pp. 104-118

As Bud’s scooter neared Madrid from the north-east, a saxe-blue soft-top convertible Morris Minor was accelerating past Perpignan, heading in the same direction. Inside were Philip Davies from Oxford and his girlfriend Jill and, at Jim’s invitation, Judy Mitchell. Judy’s toenails were stained pink from standing in a strawberry- canning factory...

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CHAPTER NINE This Is the Kind of Life I Want 1960–1962

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pp. 119-137

The Lycée d’État Chaptal was in the provincial town of Mende, high in the Lozere region of the Massif Central. A river ran between the school and the town, and the large sandstone building faced outwards, down...

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CHAPTER TEN The Slow, Dangerous Ascent 1962–1963

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pp. 138-160

Garry Arnott, bespectacled economist, had a good memory for faces. In the summer of 1962 he was with Rothschild’s Bank, and weekend visits back to Oxford were a relaxation of the past. He blended in with...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN A Sea of Dark Feathers 1964–1965

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pp. 161-175

‘My biggest cause for dissatisfaction [with A Man from Elsewhere] is that I find something artificial about it and I don’t think this is simply because I was present while it was being put together. Part of the trouble is stylistic. Sometimes the cadence of sentences becomes sonorous...

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CHAPTER TWELVE A Nebulous Desire for Escape 1965–1966

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pp. 176-192

On St Patrick’s Day 1965 Jim had taken up residence at 35 Palace Gardens Terrace, parallel with Kensington Church Street; a good address, but not exactly the leapfrog in circumstances it might appear. ‘I think I’ll go and live in a greenhouse in Notting Hill Gate next – for £2 a week...

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Extreme Outer Edge of Endeavour 1966–1967

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pp. 193-212

The sea – once more – as catalyst. Harkness Fellows had to cross the Atlantic by ship and embark on the understand ing that no early return would be sanctioned, short of an emergency. The psychological leap of emigration was believed to create fresh attitudes of mind. Jim was...

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN A Traveller through Unmapped Country 1967–1968

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pp. 213-228

‘Dear Carol, My name is Jim Farrell and I’m an old friend of Franz Beer from his rue Joané days. When I was staying with Franz in Providence a couple of weeks ago he gave me your address and suggested I call you. I’d very much like to invite you to lunch one day. If you’re not..

Part Two

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pp. 229

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN Out into the Open Sea 1969–1970

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pp. 231-254

The first thing John Spurling noticed about Jim after the period in America was that he had shaped himself – that description at once sprang to mind. Being a playwright, John paid keen attention to development of character, and he was intrigued by two opposing explanations. Was it...

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN A Foot Wedged in the Door of Eternity 1971

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pp. 255-276

Four years after confiding that his ambition was to match the achievement of Camus in La Peste, Jim’s chosen setting was taking shape, wafer-thin brick by brick. Bricks are undoubtedly an essential ingredien...

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN In the Right Place at the Right Time 1973–1974

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pp. 277-301

The Collector had become calm again . . . How pleasant it is to sit . . . and watch the waves rolling in. You can see them beginning so far out . . . you can see them slowly grow as they come nearer and nearer to the shore, rise and then thresh themselves against the beach. Some of them vanish inexplicably. Others turn themselves into giants. Unpredictability...

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN At Large in the Minefields 1975–1978

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pp. 302-333

Jim had taken to wearing a suit of bleached Indian cotton in summer which accentuated his greenish-blue eyes and his tan; in winter he sported a melodramatic dark hat with rakish brim and high crown. Women noticed him, as he was well aware. ‘Physically he was delicate-looking,’ wrote...

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CHAPTER NINETEEN A Tiny Bit World-Weary 1978–1979

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pp. 334-356

After The Singapore Grip Jim was asked if he intended to write a sequel, as the omens in the principal love story were propitious and hinted at eventual reunion. ‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ he said flatly. ‘The relationship between Matthew and Vera would never last.’ The same cynicism infused...

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CHAPTER TWENTY A Place to Breathe 1979

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pp. 357-373

The move to Ireland marked the start of a new ten-year cycle. Ten years of solid apprenticeship had been followed by ten years of accomplishment, and the anniversary of the delivery of the first draft of Troubles to Cape was...

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pp. 374-380

On the far side of Bantry Bay, near Castletownbere, a farmer named Ted Lowney was walking his land on 13 September when he noticed a black wellington boot protruding from waterweeds near the pier. Upon investigation the gardaí were called, and identity made from...

The World of J.G. Farrell DEREK MAHON

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pp. 381-382

Notes and References

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pp. 383-401


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pp. 402-412

E-ISBN-13: 9781909005075
Print-ISBN-13: 9781859184899
Print-ISBN-10: 1859184898

Publication Year: 2012