FARRELL, James Gordon  [1868-1946]

James Gordon Farrell died on 11 August 1979, aged just 44, when drowned after slipping into the sea when fishing from some rocks on Bantry Bay, Cork, Ireland. He left behind a limited body of work but the quality of the novels that had been published prompted Salman Rushdie to say “had he not sadly died so young there is no question that he would today be one of the really major novelists of the English language. The three novels that he did leave are all in their different way extraordinary.

Farrell was born on 25th January 1935 to William Farrell and his wife Prudence Josephine Russell, known as ‘Jo’. The Farrell’s hailed from Ireland and the successful family business was in the wine and spirit trade. The couple met whilst on a cruise in the North Sea during a six-month leave period from William Farrell’s job as an accountant in India. She accepted his proposal and in due course sailed out to be reunited with him in Rangoon where they were married on 1 December 1929. She returned home in 1932 for the birth of their first child and he returned in 1934. They made their home at 15 Hampton Court Road L12 in West Derby and shortly after on 25th January 1935 their second son, James Gordon, was born.

During the war years the family went to live with an uncle in Southport and after the war moved to Dublin. J.G. Farrell was educated at Rossall School and in 1956 went to study at Brasenose College Oxford. in the November of that year he contracted polio, the illness leaving him partially crippled. He was to draw on his experience in his second novel The Lung [1965].

He published three novels in the 1960’s but his reputation was essentially made by the series of novels written in the 1970’s which took as their central theme various aspects of the decline of the British Empire. Troubles [1970] The Siege of Krishnapur [1973] and The Singapore Grip [1978] established him as a leading novelist and brought him the 1973 Booker Prize.

Troubles was made into a film for television [LWT] in 1988, and The Singapore Grip was made into a drama series shown on ITV in 2020.
A cousin of his, Tom Farrell, was a noted athlete who represented the UK at the Olympics as a hurdler (and taught the author PE and RE at Quarry Bank School in the 1960s).

15 Hampton Court Road L12

Farrell's childhood home in the years leading up to World War Two.


Lavinia Graecen's biography J.G.Farrell: the Making of a Writer [Bloomsbury 1999] is a very thorough, well-researched work. The Guardian review of this work is worth a read as it also touches upon aspects the novelist.