‘I read a book once, by … I can’t remember now. It was about this woman whose husband who was living a double life.’
‘What was it called?’
‘No idea. It was last year sometime. Made me think at the time.’
Fiction, unlike its more robust counterpart, non-fiction, can easily fall into the twilight zone of fragmented recall, its authors vanishing into oblivion, once the hype and spin of the publicity machine is exhausted.
The most fashionable authors of today need to consider, when they stand before adoring crowds at literary festivals and book signings, that they, like those who have gone before them, are not permanent features of our consciousness. Some gather accolades from the grave – those underrated writers who are rediscovered and rebirthed under a Classic imprint.
Thousands of books are stillborn the moment they leave the publishing houses, despite the promises of radio shows, TV appearances and endless articles regurgitating the story, simply because they don’t resonate with current readership trends. Success today, is as much about the author’s personality and platform as the book itself.
Whatever the fate of your newly printed novel, you can be sure it’s in the hands of a capricious reading public. It’s almost as if we are embarrassed to say we like an unknown author or out-of-fashion style of writing, especially if everyone is devouring the latest best-seller which you really must read, if you are to be considered someone of substance. It reminds me of the time I would read Penny Romances behind the cover of an O’ level Geography textbook.
I’ve rediscovered the works of Barbara Pym, delighting in her dark, but highly amusing observations of the lives of ordinary people in “Quartet in Autumn,” (original publication 1977), which was once nominated for the Booker Prize. It was republished in 2015 as a Picador Classic. I understand she fell out of favour with her publisher at one point and didn’t write anything for several years. Philip Larkin described her as one of the most underrated novelists of the twentieth century. I have to agree.
A society in her name, keeps her work alive and whilst many people today would consider her writing politically incorrect ( a bit like the radio comedies of the 1970s) and lacking a plot, her powers of observation about the detail of daily life provides an ideal model for character study.
She wouldn’t fit in with today’s editorial thrust towards manuscripts with inciting incidents, conflict and tension to keep readers on the edge of their sofas. I turned all the pages of her book this weekend, savouring each one, rather than feeling a pressure to race through to the denouement. (I do love that word).
My personal view is this – books that speak to you and maybe only you are to be treasured. Publishers can’t be indulgent with their authors since they have to recoup their investment, but there may come a time, when one or two of your loyal aficionados, talk to someone of influence and say, ‘You really must read this book. It was quite a find, ( on Amazon, in the charity shop, in the bus- stop litter bin). Books, like people, provide legacies, linking fragments of the past to possibilities for the future. One tiny sentence or phrase can be enough to create impact.
You might be long gone when that novel you birthed some years before is reprinted as a classic and nobody is saying… ‘I can’t remember the title.’