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J. G. Farrell (James Gordon Farrell) Biography

(1935–79), (James Gordon Farrell), A Man from Elsewhere, The Lung, A Girl in the Head, Troubles

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Englefield Green Surrey to William Faulkner Biography

Anglo-Irish novelist, born in Liverpool, educated at Rossall School and Brasenose College, Oxford. As well as travels to the USA, Europe, and the East, he spent several years teaching in France, the setting of his first novel, A Man from Elsewhere (1963). His next novel, The Lung (1965), centres on a victim of poliomyelitis, an illness which Farrell had contracted while at Oxford. A Girl in the Head (1967) is set in an English seaside resort. Farrell's reputation rests on his three major novels exploring Britain's imperial past, sometimes known as the ‘Empire Trilogy’. The first of these, Troubles (1970), portrays the world of the ramshackle Anglo-Irish gentry in 1919 at the time of the Irish uprisings. In this, Farrell uses the crumbling Majestic Hotel as a symbol for the dying British Empire and a vanished way of life. The Siege of Krishnapur (1973; Booker Prize), a fable about the façade of British civilization, describes the siege of a British garrison holding a small town during the Indian Mutiny of 1857; the disintegration and the pompous absurdities of imperial protocol are described with characteristic wit and irony. The Singapore Grip (1978), set in 1942, depicts the collapse of the British Empire as a result of the Japanese invasion. As in all his novels, Farrell shows compassion to the wide range of characters caught up in the collapse, particularly those representing the dying order, doggedly maintaining due standards of decorum in situations of death and destruction, such as the chivalrous Major Brendan Archer who plays a major part in Troubles. Meticulously researched and skilfully narrated, Farrell's three major novels combine comedy with suspense, acute observation, and vivid characterization. Farrell was working on his posthumously published novel, The Hill Station (1981), at the time of his death in a drowning accident.

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