I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Reviews Interrupted Lives

Interrupted Lives

Gerald Dawe
J.G.Farrell: The Making of a Writer, by Lavinia Greacen, Cork University Press (second edition), €25, 440 pp, ISBN: 978-1859184899 Stewart Parker: A Life, by Marilynn Richtarik, Oxford University Press, 448 pp, £30, ISBN: 978-0199695034 Two writers who had fascinatingly different lives share a tragic intersection in the way in which fate dealt harshly with them. For James Stewart Parker and James Gordon Farrell (James Gordon became simply “Jim”) died in their mid-forties. The novelist, at forty-four, was swept out to sea while fishing from some rocks near the new home he had recently established for himself in 1979 in West Cork. Nine years later in 1988, as Marilynn Richtarik’s meticulous and definitive study reveals, the playwright Stewart Parker succumbed to the cancer which had in 1961 caused the twenty-year-old Parker to have his left leg amputated. Farrell as a student at Oxford in the mid-1950s contracted polio and was as gravely ill as Parker had been and around the same age. In the account of this dignified and copious biography by Lavinia Greacen, this is how Farrell’s Irish-based parents, Jo and Bill, learned about their son’s illness – by telegram: “You son James Farrell is in the Slade Hospital with polio and is going tonight into an Iron Lung”. Jo and Bill “caught the ferry just in time, driving on from Holyhead throughout the night. At the Slade they were told that it would not be known for a fortnight if [James] would live and, masked and gowned, all they could do was stroke his curly hair. The next time they were allowed in, his head was shaved.” Farrell would spend the subsequent critical weeks in the iron lung. This is how Greacen describes the ordeal: He was trapped, alone, inside the ultimate compartment, with his mind the solitary lever of control … Between paroxysms of coughing and bright flashes, his old nightmare returned of being swept down through bottomless dark waters. From this helpless condition Farrell endured months of further treatment before being discharged from the isolation unit into the care of Professor Trueta, “reputed to be the top polio specialist” in England at the time. After physiotherapy, Farrell was released in February 1957 from hospital, “markedly grey-haired and four stone lighter and travelled home in the care of an Irish friend, Peter Brown” to his parents’ bungalow in the Dublin hills. If their early manhood was marked by…

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