The novelist J.G. Farrell - known to his friends as Jim - was drowned on August 11 1979 when he was swept off rocks by a sudden storm while fishing in the West of Ireland. He was in his early forties. Had he lived to write more, assessed the "Daily Telegraph" obituary at the time, 'he might well have been regarded as the greatest historical novelist of his generation'. Thirty years on, with a new and younger readership, that accolade rings true. "The Siege of Krishnapur", the second of Farrell's "Empire Trilogy", won the Booker Prize in 1973, and it was selected as one of only six previous winners to compete in the 2008 international 'Best of Booker' competition. The strength of American interest in Farrell's books is underlined by the inclusion of all three Trilogy novels in the Classics imprint of the "New York Review of Books". Many of these collected letters are written to women whom Jim Farrell loved and whom he inadvertently hurt. His ambition to be a great writer in an age of minimal author's earnings ruled out the expense of marriage and fatherhood, because for an unconventional novelist he had remarkably conventional standards. Self-sufficiency was his answer.
Books Ireland has astutely portrayed him as 'a mystery wrapped in an enigma, a man who wanted solitude and yet did not want it, wanted love but feared commitment, reached out again and again but, possibly through fear of rejection, was always the first to cut the cord'. But Farrell's kindness, deft humour and gift for friendship reached across rejection, which must account for why so many such letters were kept. Funny, teasing, anxious and ambitious, these previously unpublished letters give the reader a glimpse of this private man.