Greacen, Lavinia

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GREACEN, Lavinia


Born in London, England; immigrated to Ireland.


Home—Ireland. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 38 Soho Sq., London W1D 3HB, England.




Chink: A Biography, Macmillan (London, England), 1989.

J. G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1999.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Irish Times.


Lavinia Greacen is a London-born writer who lives in Ireland. Greacen contributed to various periodicals before writing her first book, Chink, a biography of "Chink" Dorman O'Gowan, an Irish nationalist who fought in India and Singapore during World War II and who outsmarted German General Erwin Rommel at the first battle of El Alamein in 1942.

Greacen discovered the work of Irish writer Jim Farrell in 1972 in a second-hand bookstore near Trinity College, Dublin. She stumbled across Troubles (1970) from Farrell's "Empire" trilogy, which includes The Seige of Krishnapur (1973) and The Singapore Grip (1978). In an interview with Robert McMillen for Irish News Online, she said, "As I was doing Chink, the images coming up were similar to those in Jim's books, and I got these strong mental pictures of Farrell traveling throughout India and Southeast Asia." Greacen learned that Farrell had grown up very close to where she was living and that the lead character in Troubles was based on the father of her brother-in-law. Greacen never met Farrell, however.

Farrell was an athlete who was stricken with polio while attending Oxford University, and who was supported by an iron lung, the subject of his second novel. Forever frail, he became a very private man. He enjoyed many friendships, but he had great difficulty sustaining relationships with women and tended to treat them badly. As Greacen points out, his third book, A Girl in the Head, is about the inability to love. On August 11, 1979, Farrell was fishing from rocks in Bantry Bay on the coast of County Cork when he was washed away by violent seas. Greacen told McMillen that she had experienced that very storm, which also caused the deaths of eighteen men who were competing in the Fastnet Race.

Greacen's biography, J. G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer, was published two decades after his death at age forty-three. Irish Times writer Angela Long called J. G. Farrell "a staggering piece of work." The Statesman's Tony Gould wrote that Greacen "has written a long book on a short(ish) life. Researched exhaustively, it is clearly a labor of love." D. J. Taylor wrote in Literary Review online that "it is to Greacen's credit that she realizes the extent to which the literary landscape of Farrell's day has changed, and one of the merits of this biography is the vigor with which it tries to sweep away these mountains of accumulated Seventies dust."

Margaret Drabble, commenting in the London Guardian, noted that "nobody seemed to know the whole man.… Greacen has done her research thoroughly, and interviewed dozens of major and minor figures in Jim's story. She has elicited illuminating comments from friends, admirers, and rivals (in the last category, note Theroux and Andrew Sinclair). On the whole, she has let them speak for themselves, and has not intruded interpretations. But the puzzles remain, as Jim would have wished." Drabble also noted the conflicting opinions as to how Farrell drowned, whether from lack of strength to fight the waves, a cardiac arrest, or possibly suicide. Drabble said that Greacen's "revelations about his failing health—a condition that he concealed so elegantly—strengthen the probability of a sombre conclusion. Not suicide, but a fatalistic indifference to survival, perhaps?"



Guardian, August 7, 1999, Margaret Drabble, review of J. G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer, p. 8.

Irish Times, July 31, 1999, Angela Long, review of J. G. Farrell, p. 67.

Library Journal, May 1, 2001, Diane Gardner Premo, review of J. G. Farrell, p. 84.

New Statesman, October 11, 1999, Tony Gould, review of J. G. Farrell, p. 58.

Times Literary Supplement, October 8, 1999, Penelope Fitzgerald, review of J. G. Farrell.


Irish News Online, (August 8, 1999), Robert McMillen, interview with Greacen.

Literary Review, (August, 1999), D. J. Taylor, review of J. G. Farrell.*