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Archive for August, 2010

Is it fact, is it fiction? Actually, it’s a fascinating hybrid with more of a leaning to the latter.  The book attracts some unexpected followers. Nabokov, not an author one would immediately associate with Harold Nicolson, once confessed with a certain anguish that he had been fighting against its influence all his life.

‘The style of the book is like a drug,’ he admitted to Harold Nicolson’s son, Nigel.

If you want  a less contorted recommendation I urge you to read this piece by Stacy Schiff. Stacy is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has written biographies of Saint-Exupery and Vera (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov) and will be much in the news this autumn when her new biography of Cleopatra is published.  She is also a long-term devotee of Some People:

‘I go back to the book regularly, to be humbled, educated and amused … The sly wit and crystalline prose never disappoint.’ more

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I have a very humble role here, I really only need tell you that Faber Finds have reissued four of C. J. Driver’s novels – Elegy for a RevolutionarySend War in Our Time, O Lord, Death of Fathers and A Messiah of the Last Days.

They are good, but don’t take my word for it, read Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee instead. Rightly garlanded as they are with Nobel and Booker prizes, both have written serious and enthusiastic appreciations of Jonty Driver’s novels. Read their words, and then I think you will find it difficult not to move on to the novels.

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Faber Finds has reissued two of Ronald Blythe’s titles: his very first book (and only novel) A Treasonable Growth and his wonderful social history of England in the inter-war years, The Age of Illusion. In connection with this Ronald Blythe himself has written a charming background piece in which he acknowleges his debt to E. M . Forster but was too shy to let on he was writing a novel, let alone one under his influence.  If you want a glimpse of publishing genius, read Ronald Blythe’s final paragraph in which he explains the link, improbable on the surface, between the these two books: with inspired perspicacity, Tony Godwin, one of the great publishers of the last fifty years, commissioned The Age of Illusion having read the novel (though he didn’t publish it in Penguin) and being impressed by its feel for the Thirties.  How right he was. The Age of Illusion remains, by far, the most readable account of the period.  If in doubt, read the essay on The Rector of Stiffkey (and if you want to show off, you will pronouce it ‘Stewkey’) about that tragi-comic figure  Harold Francis Davidson, defrocked for consorting with fallen women in London and meeting a bizarre end by being mauled by a lion at the Skegness Amusement Park.  I should point out, to check any fear the book is insensitively lightweight,  the next essay, equally as good, in the book is about Jarrow.

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