META NAME="Forgotten Classics" CONTENT="neglected novels forgotten authors."

forgotten classics

'Reading neglected writers so you don't have to' A Time Out column and a blog for books that seem to be undeservedly forgotten, from John Galsworthy to Rose Macaulay, from Amos Tutuola to DH Lawrence, from W. Somerset Maugham to Fanny Burney. What books do you think we should revive? If you love a writer who has lapsed in popularity please let me know! Are my choices controversial?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

tech stuff

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


woo! woo! I (or this blog) just got blogged ( which is the first time I’ve seen the site linked and with a very nice write up, too, from a blog I like. so there.





Friday, January 19, 2007

julie burchill

Forgotten London Classics: Julie Burchill, Ambition (1989)

Burchill’s loopy first novel takes us from Bangkok to Sun City to New York whilst its heart remains squarely in London. Susan Street is the fast-talking, hard-bargaining, label-wearing, luscious heroine of a book of which the Literary Review said ‘Civilisation will not lightly forgive her’. Whether Burchill cared what the stuffy, masculine Review thought is unlikely, but this is a snappy, populist, inyerface, gloriously foul-mouthed, hammered and unapologetic whirlwind of a book which probably unknowingly wrote the template for Girls Aloud. Street works for the newspaper Sunday Best and is hoping to become the first woman editor of the paper. The new owner of the paper has other plans for her, however, which mainly include sexually humiliating her to the point that she breaks down and stops being all uppity. ‘I’m going to have fun breaking you, Susan’, says the media mogul Tobias Pope, and his subsequent Herculean seven tasks include various orgies that teeter on the edge of gang rape, having ‘SOLD’ tattooed on her forehead, becoming a Thai stripper and being hung from the ceiling of a Lesbian club in New York. From the bravura opening sequence when Street wonders what to do having shagged her boss to death through the various tasks she is presented with Burchill suggests that her protagonist is in control of the situation and effectively leading Pope on, allowing him to think he has the power whilst actually rather enjoying the whole thing herself. This does not really persuade the reader, but the energy of the novel drags them ever forward. Similarly the presentation of Susan as some kind of hard-edged feminist does not really square with the character from the provinces so desperate to succeed she will accede to any request made by the strangely attractive Pope. She is his possession, both financially and bodily, and it seems counterintuitive of her to see their competition as something she has some power over. In the end the novel just about fails to escape its generic origins: despite the sexual rapaciousness and explicitness, Susan finds herself in love with (you guessed it) Pope’s son who marries her and gives her the job she finally wanted. It is a globetrotting romance by any other name, a trashy airport novel that kind of undermines its origins but probably doesn’t care. Burchill’s scattergun approach is exhilarating and oftentimes extremely funny. The novel kind of stands the test of time, although the sex seems tamer a couple of decades later and the obsessive desire for success rings a little uncertainly. Certainly the London presented here – all image obsessed (and the description of the clothes in the novel are themselves worth cherishing as historical documents) and shiny new bars – is seething with familiar life. Street taxis around, shops, argues and has sex; but she mainly drinks, and the novel suggests that the lifeblood of the city is in its new bars and clubs. Similarly it presents to us a newly burgeoning demographic of rich, educated, single, independent women (of varying sexualities) beginning to tear up the city and make it their own.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The latest LFC is out in Time Out (on Julie Burchill of all people) and I’ll pop it up as and when. Just added a few links including the Manchizzle, my fave Manchester blog and 43, lovely writing about bus journeys (and winner of the Manchester Blogging Awards). The next column is going to be on Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies and thereafter I’m uncertain, I think I want to go further back, possibly into the C18 or C19 (Fanny Burney, Charlotte Lennox or Walter Scott are in the forefront of my mind).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Graham Greene column, Jan 07

Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear (1943)


Famous now perhaps for a handful of works – Brighton Rock, Our Man in Havana, The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene was a profound stylist and experimental writer. His minor novels are often things of delicate and strange beauty. The Ministry of Fear is such a text, an odd, enigmatic work about salvation, memory, guilt and loyalty set during the blitz. Greene’s protagonist Rowe is a conflicted, grief-stricken man racked with guilt for the killing of his wife in an act of mercy – in a powerful flashback we see them both tacitly acknowledging what he is doing. Rowe attempts to cocoon himself away from his past and from his present, living from day to day and rarely reaching out to anyone. The war is not his business, and he lives mechanically. The masterly opening chapter begins with Rowe visiting a rather forlorn wartime fête in a Bloomsbury square for old time’s sake and ends with him in a daze looking skywards from the basement of his freshly bombed out house. At the fête he wins a cake which, slowly, it becomes obvious contains something of great value to the Germans, and a series of strange events lead to him being sought in connection with another, more violent murder, before being admitted to a sinister nursing home having lost his memory.

Rowe’s numb existence is disrupted and he is finally roused to action, becoming at least involved in the world around him, if not able to affect things particularly. He repeatedly thinks of himself in a book, specifically a narrative of heroism, but events remain resolutely messy and unpleasant rather than resolving themselves properly; people die randomly, and truth and honour prove to be slippery concepts. The novel’s key atmosphere is menace, the unknown horror that lives below the surface of most people’s lives.

The blitz in this novel is something which Londoners live with, occasionally dying and grieving for those gone, but generally viewing events as something of an irritation which rearranges the road network and prevents them from getting home to central London from the relative obscurity of Battersea. It is this sense of the ordinariness of war, the anti-heroic day-to-day nature of resistance, that is the keynote to the novel. It all concludes in classic Greene fashion – cynically, insubstantially, acknowledging the uncomfortable fragility of happiness. Rowe and his Austrian refugee lover Anna deceive each other in order to stay together, each one knowing the other’s secrets but never revealing them: ‘They had to tread carefully for a lifetime, never speak without thinking twice; they must watch each other like enemies because they loved each other so much’. The exquisite bitterness of this conclusion is a fittingly ambivalent conclusion to this novel of hedging, sullen horror.


ManClassics/ TO column/ etc

Little to report at the moment. Still chasing Time Out Manchester for ManClassics and a possible tie-in event with the Manchester Literary Festival: watch this space. Spent the Christmas period working on two more Time Out London columns: Julie Burchill’s Ambition and John Milton’s Areopagitica. Something of a contrast between them, you might say. I’m also working on the Cassell 1000 Key Moments of the 20th Century the commissions list of which will more than keep me in Forgotten Classics – Knut Hamsun or Bohumil Hrabal anyone? – but as an activity it has prompted me to think about how many things are lost even if they are considered seminal. The book also suggests that literary history is something of a chronological ascent towards the contemporary (although it has welcome digressions along the way and a good dollop of populism). This kind of listmaking is useful and a key cultural phenomena but I’m ambivalent about being involved in it…