J. G. Farrell Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

J. G. Farrell is known primarily for his novels. His perceptive and entertaining account of his 1971 visit to India, posthumously titled “Indian Diary,” is appended to The Hill Station, an unfinished novel that was published after Farrell’s death.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In the main, J. G. Farrell’s early efforts—A Man From Elsewhere, The Lung, and A Girl in the Head—fail to display the power, intricacy, and inventiveness that characterize his fourth book, Troubles, and the rest of his completed fiction. Set in rural Ireland in the years 1919 to 1921—a period of bloody civil war—Troubles earned for Farrell the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and signaled his interest in producing carefully documented and closely detailed historical fiction. Farrell’s fifth novel, The Siege of Krishnapur, takes place in India in 1857, when protest of the British presence in that country suddenly grew violent and widespread. The Siege of Krishnapur was awarded Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize and convinced many critics that Farrell, not yet forty, was fast on his way to a spectacular career. Set during the 1930’s in what was then British Malaya, Farrell’s sixth book, The Singapore Grip, was generally less enthusiastically received than The Siege of Krishnapur. Tragically, Farrell’s life was cut short when, in 1979, he drowned in waters off Ireland’s southern coast. Still, on the basis of his later work, Farrell must be considered a highly original talent and can be ranked among the finest historical novelists of his generation.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Binns, Ronald. J. G. Farrell. London: Methuen, 1986. This first full-length study of Farrell traces the development of the idiosyncratic Anglo-Irish novelist’s career.

Binns, Ronald. “The Novelist as Historian.” Critical Quarterly 21 (Summer, 1979): 70-72. Discusses The Singapore Grip, the last of Farrell’s novels about the decline of the British Empire, as well as his other two novels on the subject. Binns considers this “trilogy” a “remarkable achievement.” An appreciative piece, clear and insightful.

Blamires, Harry, ed. A Guide to Twentieth Century Literature in English. New York: Methuen, 1983. The entry on Farrell describes his early novels as dabbling in “the bizarre and the grotesque.” Praises The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip, however, for their “meticulously researched” emphasis on the rhythms of everyday life against political upheaval.

Bradbury, Malcolm, and David Palmer, eds. The Contemporary English Novel. London: Edward Arnold, 1979. Discusses Farrell in the context of historical fiction but emphasizes his concern with human individual lives. An informative and valuable piece of criticism on Farrell.

Greacen, Lavinia. J. G. Farrell: The Making of the Writer. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. A biography of the novelist, greatly enhanced by Greacen’s access to Farrell’s family and his private papers.

Halio, Jay L., ed. British Novelists Since 1960. Vol. 14 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. In addition to biographical information, contains critical commentary on Farrell’s work.

Wilson, A. N. “An Unfinished Life.” Spectator, April 15, 1981, 20-21. An admiring piece, in which Wilson acknowledges Farrell as an “outstanding novelist of his generation,” but Wilson also sees flaws in Farrell’s three Empire novels.