Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Continued Unsurprising Incompetence of Saskia and Tabitha in the Ongoing Attempt to Recognise a Good Writer When They See One

The Sunday Times, clearly anticipating a slow news year, has splashed on its front page that having sent two prize-winning novels, anonymously, to various publishers and agents, that nobody was interested. It's a good game of course, since the Saskias and Tabithas peppering the lower shelves of the British publishing industry aren't exactly the monoliths of aesthetic credibility that our literature needs or deserves, however, despite the near certainty that publishing these days is only interested in "near certainties" (Katie Price aka Jordan has a book deal, for instance), I do have some sympathy in this case. Whether anyone at all still reads Stanley Middleton is a moot point, and whether anyone under 50 actually reads V.S. Naipaul out of choice, is another one. Every second-hand bookshop is rammed with writers we just don't read any more - like Isabel Colegate and Richard Condon, and you can pick up any Margaret Drabble or Iris Murdoch you care to mention for a quid. Naipaul still gives good copy of course, and as a Nobel laureate, and a politically prickly creature his readership is likely to survive a while yet; but I have to say Middleton was a name from that distant past - yes, the Booker before it was televised. I'm pleased to say at 86 his one comment on this "people don’t seem to know what a good novel is nowadays" made me warm to him; and next time I'm in the second-hand shop I may pick up "Holiday" and give it a go. After all, unlike the other 50 manuscripts a day that the agents are complaining about, (and a good deal of the books that make it to the shelves for that matter), this one at least once had a readership.


Quillhill said...

Seems like proof that books are art, and publishing is purely subjective, and having a book published is mostly luck or favoritism.

Adrian Slatcher said...

I'm sure you're right, but I'd be very surprised if anyone in the publishing industry ever admitted that outright. I'd be interested to know what Don Paterson thought about having Mark Haddon on the Picador poetry list for instance. Perhaps he said, I'll let you publish that, if you let me publish X number of poets this year?