Recently one of my favorite authors, Christopher Priest, discovered a stash of first editions of three of his novels, including the one that had the most effect on a much younger Bucknall, The Affirmation. (I reviewed it here, and reviewed Priest’s latest, The Islanders, set in the same fictional place, here. I’d forgotten until just now but I’d reviewed another of his novels, The Prestige, here.) He offered these first editions up for sale on his blog at very reasonable prices so I jumped on it and bought a copy of The Affirmation from 1981. (I have this vision of these books being discovered hidden deep within a boxroom, a quintessentially English place and nothing so banal as a basement where most of my books are stored.)
The book arrived in the mail yesterday and to say I am chuffed with the purchase is an understatement. He was also kind enough to write a dedication to me in it and added a couple of bookmarks promoting two of his other books (including the new one to be published in June, The Adjacent). Most excellent.
The inclusion of the bookmarks reminded me of another bookmark, one that I’ve carried around and used for 30 years – as you can see from the scan it’s now quite shabby looking. It celebrates the Best of Young British Novelists and dates from a promotion in 1983 to introduce twenty unknown or little-known novelists to the book-buying public. Being a member of said class, and being influenced by the fact it contained my favorite author at the time, I decided to try some of them out. I consequently carried the bookmark around in my wallet for a while, so that if I found myself with some spare time in WH Smiths or Dillons or Foyles, I’d pull out the bookmark and check out the latest from these authors. The things we did before the internet and Amazon, eh?
Martin Amis. To be honest I was most impressed with his early novels, starting with The Rachel Papers and culminating with Money and his collection of short stories, Einstein’s Monsters. After which, meh: I struggled with London Fields and didn’t bother after that. I got the perception that the novels were more exercises in wordplay, involving unsympathetic protagonists and unlikely scenarios, just so the author could make a heavy-handed proselytizing point about some aspect of modern life.
Pat Barker. Never tried her novels. Ditto Buchi Emecheta, Shiva Naipaul, Rose Tremain.
Julian Barnes. He is one of those authors I’ve kept up with over the years, pretty much enjoying all his books. Favorite novels include Flaubert’s Parrot, A History of the World in 10½ chapters, and, despite some negative reviews, The Sense of an Ending. I also treasure Nothing to be Afraid of (which I reviewed here) and The Pedant in the Kitchen, which I read in a French translation, Un homme dans sa cuisine.
Ursula Bentley. I tried her first novel, The Natural Order, but didn’t particularly like it. I can remember nothing about it after 30 years. Ditto Maggie Gee, Alan Judd, Adam Mars-Jones, Philip Norman, Lisa St Aubin de Teran, Clive Sinclair: I tried their first novels but they didn’t engage or enthrall me.
William Boyd. Another author whose work I follow avidly. Favorites include Any Human Heart (which I just didn’t want to end, I was so enthralled), Ordinary Thunderstorms.
Kazuo Ishiguro. Loved Remains of the Day, struggled a bit with Never Let Me Go.
Ian McEwan. I’d have to say I much prefer his earlier novels than his latest (Solar was painful, and, despite the almost universal acclaim, I’m not a particular fan of Atonement). But Enduring Love was excellent and I even enjoyed the characters’ heart-breaking awkwardness in On Chesil Beach. I’ll admit I’m looking forward to Sweet Tooth, which I got for Christmas.
Salman Rushdie. Let’s just say I find him difficult to read, having tried both Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses. I appreciate his style of mixing history and fantasy, but his wordiness just doesn’t resonate with me particularly.
Graham Swift. Another author I like immensely, from the magnificent Waterland to Last Orders, by way of The Light of Day. However, I’d have to say Tomorrow was most annoying, since I just didn’t feel that the awful (or should that be awe-ful?) secret the whole novel was about was all that earth-shattering.
A.N. Wilson. Not someone I follow much, whether from a fiction or non-fiction viewpoint. I seem to remember enjoying Scandal and Who Was Oswald Fish? on the fiction side, and London: A Short History on the non-fiction side (although that was eclipsed by Peter Ackroyd’s much better, magisterial London: The Biography). In fact, that last parenthetical thought essentially sums my feelings about him: the equally prolific Peter Ackroyd should have been on the list and Wilson dropped.