At his death 1979, J. G. Farrell was called his generation's greatest historical novelist. Does the claim hold up?
Although Irish poet and man of letters Derek Mahon calls him the "finest novelist of recent times," J. G. Farrell has lacked the high profile of other English writers of the late twentieth century. He is sometimes mistaken for James T. Farrell—remarkably, the two died within a few weeks of each other in 1979—but the working-class writer from the rough-and-tumble streets of Chicago's south side couldn't have been more different from James Gordon Farrell, who haughtily referred to his near-namesake as that "other James Farrell."
To Mahon, Farrell was an "aristocrat of the spirit." Born in 1935, he was half English, half Anglo-Irish, an athletic, strong-willed, and conspicuously handsome man who overcame polio as an Oxford undergraduate in the '50s. He lived in France for a time in the '60s, where, under the spell
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