James Gordon Farrell (1935-79) and his famous works

James Gordon Farrell, (25 January 1935 – 11 August 1979) was a famous Anglo-Irish novelist. He was born in Liverpool. Farrell was educated at Rossall School and Brasenose College, Oxford, where, in his first term, he contracted poliomyelitis. He later traveled widely in America, Europe, the East and he spent several years teaching in France. His first novel, A Man from Elsewhere (1963), was set in France. The book centers around Sayer, a journalist for a communist paper, as he tries to find skeletons in Regan’s closet. Regan is a dying novelist who is about to be awarded an important Catholic literary prize. It mimics the fight between the two leaders of French existentialism: Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, Sayer representing Sartre and Regan Camus. This book shows the influence of French Existentialism. His second book, The Lung (1965), describes the experiences of a polio victim Martin Sands, and A Girl in the Head (1967) the desultory adventures of Count Boris Slattery in an English seaside town called Maidenhair.

He is mainly famous for his Empire trilogy, a series of historical novels that intricately explore British imperialism and its decline. The first one, Troubles (1970), is set in Ireland, in the decaying Majestic Hotel, just after the First World War, against a background of Sinn Fein violence. The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) that won the Booker Prize deals with the events of the Indian Mutiny, in a characteristically ironic and comic vein. The Singapore Grip (1978) moves closer to the epic, blending real and fictitious characters and describing the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, an event which Farrell portrays as a death blow to the British Empire.

His last three novels involved considerable historical research and all reflect a sense of the end of the empire and the stubborn, at times heroic, at times stupid, refusal of his characters to recognize the course of history. His most vivid creation is Major Brendan Archer, courteous, faithful, and chivalrous, holding fast to his own code of civilized conduct in increasingly violent circumstances: he appears in Troubles and again in The Singapore Grip. Similarly, the sardonic, kindly, rationalist Dr McNab from The Siege reappears in The Hill Station (1981), which was left unfinished when Farrell was accidentally drowned, shortly after moving from London to Ireland.

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