'Lost' Booker winner is named, 40 years on

JG Farrell, who died in 1979, has beaten off fierce competition to win the literary prize that never was

When, shortly after completing his celebrated Empire Trilogy, JG Farrell moved to a remote farmhouse above Bantry Bay, on Ireland's rugged south-west coast, he admitted that he was having trouble applying himself to his craft. "I've been trying to write but there are so many competing interests – the prime one at the moment is fishing off the rocks," he told a friend. That was August 1979 and a deadly Atlantic storm was brewing.

Weeks later, Farrell went down to the sea armed with his rod, slipped and fell on the foaming rocks. He drowned aged 44.

Last night, three decades after his death, the writer was named the winner of the "lost" Man Booker Prize for his 1970 tour de force Troubles, which tells the story of another Englishman who comes to grief in the Emerald Isle – this time a soldier embroiled in the gathering tempest of the Irish war of independence.

Farrell's brother Richard accepted the prize, a bound first-edition copy of the book, from Lady Antonia Fraser at a celebratory party in London's Fitzroy Square last night.

"This is a bittersweet moment to me," Mr Farrell told the audience. "It's sweet for obvious reasons but it's bitter because Jim can't be here to accept the prize himself."

The award was created to correct the anomaly that befell authors of books published in 1970, who missed the opportunity to be considered for the Booker-McConnell prize (as it was then known) when it changed from being given retrospectively to being handed out for the best novel in the year of publication. Farrell's fourth novel was one of a long-list of 21 overlooked books eventually whittled down to a short-list of six.

But it was Troubles which caught the eye of the judges, who praised its wit and searing intelligence. It means that Farrell, who was on the cusp of achieving international literary celebrity at the time of his death, will be brought to a new generation of readers. Even though it has never been out of print in the 40 years since it was first published, the novel looks likely to enjoy the traditional "Booker bounce" in sales and will lead to further critical re-evaluation of Farrell's standing among the great English post-war writers.

Quite how Farrell would have felt about the accolade is debatable. His agent and friend Deborah Rogers insisted yesterday it would have meant much to him to have the received the prize for the second time, having already won in 1973 for The Siege of Krishnapu.

But at that award ceremony, Farrell surprised guests with his ambivalent acceptance speech, referring obliquely to "commercial exploitation" and adding: "Every year, the Booker brothers see their prize wash up a monster more horrid than the last."

Had it not been for the change in the rules, Farrell would have been the first writer to win the Booker twice – a feat eventually achieved by JM Coetzee in 1999 and then Peter Carey in 2001. The Siege of Krishnapu was also nominated for the Best of the Booker in 2008.

Deborah Rogers said: "Often it is only by dying you give a great kick to a reputation but the awful thing is that you often wish the person was there to know about it. So often the real plaudits only come clattering out of the cupboard once it is realised what has been lost.

"Troubles is my personal favourite by him. It is a very, very funny book, quite apart from the big issues of the politics. It is heartbreaking when you think of all the books we lost from him."

The judging panel included the author Tobias Hill, the journalist Rachel Cooke and the newsreader Katie Derham, all of whom were born in 1970. They were tasked with selecting the shortlist, which was then voted on by the public via the Man Booker website. Troubles emerged as the clear winner with 38 per cent of the votes – more than double the number cast for any other book.

Cooke described the winner as "brilliant". She said: "It really is the most beautiful book. I am very wary of using the word perfect but it is hard to find anything wrong with it. If it were published now you would find it on prize shortlists. I am just really glad that he has won."

An intensely private man who never married, James Gordon Farrell was born to an Anglo-Irish family in Liverpool. He studied at Brasenose College Oxford where he was a keen rugby player, but contracted polio. The experience informed his second novel The Lung, written in 1965, but it was the Empire Trilogy which was to see his career really take off.

Troubles, about the tragic-comic hero Major Brendan Archer (and his sometime fiancée Angela) received the Faber Memorial Prize. The real star, however, is the Majestic Hotel, a faded and crumbling symbol of English suzerainty in Ireland. The shell-shocked English officer finds himself surrounded by mounting violence – from the republicans to the Black and Tans. The book was made into a television film in 1988.

'Troubles', an extract

They had kissed behind a screen of leaves and, reaching out to steady himself, he had put his hand down firmly on a cactus, which had rendered many of his parting words insincere. The strain had been so great that he had been glad to get away from her. Perhaps, however, this suppressed agony had given the wrong impression of his feelings.

Although he was sure that he had never actually proposed to Angela during the few days of their acquaintance, it was beyond doubt that they were engaged: a certainty fostered by the fact that from the very beginning she had signed her letters 'Your loving fiancée, Angela'. This had surprised him at first. But, with the odour of death drifting into the dug-out in which he scratched out his replies by the light of a candle, it would have been trivial and discourteous beyond words to split hairs about such purely social distinctions.

Angela was no good at writing letters. In them it would have been impossible to find any trace of the feeling there had been between them during his home leave of 1916. She had certain ritual expressions such as 'Every day I miss you more and more' and 'I am praying for your safe return, Brendan' which she used in every letter, combined with entirely factual descriptions of domestic matters... Any personal comment, any emotion was efficiently masked out by this method. The Major did not particularly mind. He was wary of sentiment and had always had a relish for facts – of which, these days, his badly rattled memory was in short supply (in hospital he had been recovering from shell-shock)...

It was true, of course, that he was slightly uneasy as he set off for Ireland. He was about to be plunged into a circle of complete strangers. What if Angela turned out to be insufferable but insisted on marrying him? Moreover, his nerves were in a poor state. What if the family turned out to be objectionable? However, it's hard to be intimidated by people when one knows, for instance, the nature and amount of the dental work in their upper and lower jaws, where they buy their outer clothes (Angela had delicately omitted to mention underwear) and many more things besides.

Troubles by JG Farrell is available in paperback (Phoenix, £7.99)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor