JG Farrell and the human condition

Sir, – Rebecca Ziegler is to be commended for drawing attention to the somewhat neglected author JG Farrell (Books, January 26th).

As a modern writer, and a double winner of the Booker prize, his work remains overlooked even in Ireland, where he spent much of his life.

Her observation that in his work things “go wrong with the human condition” such that their “bodies . . . fail them” is interesting in the context of his life, and indeed death, by drowning, off the southwest coast of Ireland.

Despite being quite an athletic youth he contracted polio as an adult and was paralysed temporarily. He was maintained on an iron lung, an obsolete form of mechanical ventilator, during what must have been a harrowing period. This inspired a novel entitled The Lung, which is now out of print. As an intensive-care doctor I was interested to find a copy, which gives what may be one of the earliest accounts of the experience of life-support from a patient perspective. At times they are terrifying, and indicate how far the speciality has advanced.


Despite recovering his mobility and breathing capacity, he never fully regained the strength in his arms. This may explain his drowning after falling into the sea on a summer’s day in 1979, in Bantry, while fishing. He is buried in Durrus.

Ultimately, I suspect his experience of polio underpinned his tendency to describe “body parts . . . as acting . . . to thwart the will of their owners” in so much of his work. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.