J.G. Farrell, in full James Gordon Farrell (born Jan. 23, 1935, Liverpool, Eng.—died Aug. 12, 1979, Bantry Bay, Ire.) British novelist who won acclaim for his Empire trilogy, a series of historical novels that intricately explore British imperialism and its decline.
Farrell was born to an Irish mother and an English father, and he spent much of his childhood in Ireland. After attending boarding school in Lancashire, Eng., he studied at the University of Oxford, where in 1960 he received a degree in French and Spanish. While teaching at a lycée (secondary school) in France, Farrell started to write fiction. His debut novel, A Man from Elsewhere (1963), a cerebral narrative about a communist journalist attempting to expose a celebrated writer’s past, contains echoes of French existentialism. He followed it with The Lung (1965), in which he drew upon his own affliction with polio, which he contracted at Oxford, to present a downbeat portrait of an irascible man confined to an iron lung. On the strength of these two works, in 1966 Farrell won a fellowship to travel to the United States. While in New York City he published A Girl in the Head (1967), which tells in seriocomic fashion the story of a cynical eccentric living in an English seaside town.