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review 2017-10-18 14:50
The Book of Forgotten Authors - Christopher Fowler,Christopher Fowler,riverrun

This book is a bibliophile’s dream. It is a cornucopia of potential hidden gems ripe for re-discovery. There are authors you will have heard of, surprise inclusions that make sense when you read about the wealth of writing they are no longer associated with. There are those authors who you will never have heard of, with none of their titles ringing any bookish bells, overshadowed perhaps by far more famous contemporaries. Then there will be those that will surprise because whilst the author’s name may have slipped from the collective memory their stories are household names.

 

It is extremely easy to read. The short, two to three page chapters dedicated to each of the 99 authors, interspersed with essays, mean that the reader can soon find themselves 10 or 15 authors in. It is a book that you can dip in and out of, oftentimes having to be put down so that the reader can research the books of an author they have just read about.

 

There are so many authors in the novel whose work sounds so appealing that I’ve had to create a list of those I want to read. In fact, this book arrived the day after I bought a copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, who’s author, Winifred Watson, features in The Book of Forgotten Authors. I stopped reading the later to pick up the former, and fell in love with the tale of a down at heel governess and her new accidental friends (but that’s another story). Having had the feeling that I will discover some new favourites by reading some of these forgotten authors already validated I can’t wait to discover more.

Christopher Fowler writes in an engaging, informative and fun style, one which draws the reader completely into the lives of the writer whose life’s work is summed up in a few pages. His love and passion for literature shines through, making the book the more entertaining for it.

 

This look at forgotten authors is of course subjective. There were over 400 discovered by Christopher Fowler, condensed to just 99. There may have been many others in the remaining 301 that someone else would have held in higher regard. There are some of the authors selected whose work I know I will probably not enjoy but others whose novels I know will fit perfectly with my bookish bent. Don’t be disheartened if not all of the authors appeal, the other benefit to this book is that you will find an author to re-discover just as much as you’ll find an author that won’t be gracing your bookshelves.

This is a brilliant reference book but is also a look at the vagrancies of the novel, the fads and fashions of different periods in history. Hugely popular authors have now vanished from the reading public’s conscious. This book will open the doors to a wonderful array of authors whose novels are waiting patiently to be read again.

 

Luckily some publishers are realising the joy to be found in older titles, with Persephone and the British Library being at least two who are re-publishing long forgotten favourites.

An informative reference guide but also an ode to the lost authors of bygone eras, The Book of Forgotten Authors is an entertaining look at the world of writing. It should perhaps come with a warning – this book will cost you a pretty penny in new to you titles you find you simply must have.

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review 2017-09-09 21:14
Gilded Needles
Gilded Needles (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Christopher Fowler,Michael McDowell,Mike Mignola

“You are falling into inanity,” said Judge Stallworth coldly. “I have told you, the lower classes do not take revenge upon the upper."

My third McDowell and I think I am a little in love with his writing. How else did I just enjoy a work of horror fiction with a blood-curdling and violent revenge plot at the heart of its story?

 

In an earlier update I mentioned that I could see some similarities between Gilded Needles and The Godfather. I still believe this is true. Except that Black Lena Shanks and her daughters are far superior in every aspect to any of the Corleones:

 

1. They seek to grow their business interests openly. 

 

2. They do not pick fights with rivalling families for reasons of business. When they escalate operations, it is for deeply personal reasons. And, yet, they limit extent of their wrath and try to shield the innocents and bystanders.

 

3. They are not afraid to take on "the man" - or in this case, the police, a senior judge, the newspapers, and pretty much all of "polite society".

 

I loved the scene-setting that McDowell uses in the first chapters to give us that panoramic view of the Black Triangle (a district in the underbelly of New York) on New Year's Eve 1881: we get to be drawn right into the crowd and mingle with prostitutes,  opium addicts, drunks, the sick, and all the other destitute characters that make up the society of outcasts. All of whom are outside the law, because the law neglects them, and outside of society because they are not deemed to belong. 

 

Here is another aspect where Gilded Needles compares with The Godfather: I was struck that the society described in The Godfather excluded and dismissed minorities (and women) as valueless disposables. In Gilded Needles, the society is based on an inclusion of minorities - and most of the main characters and acting agents of the plot are women. Granted, most of them were murderous, but still, if McDowell's aim was to create an alternative society that thrived on differences, this worked incredibly well. 

 

Gilded Needles was published in 1980. When reading, I could not help thinking the McDowell was not only writing about 1882, but also about his observations about society at the time of writing. There are descriptions of political scheming that could have easily been set in any modern decade, as could the observation how the legal system may not in fact offer equal protection to all members of society, and let's not even go into the treatment of minorities by society. 

 

Anyway, there was a lot more to this book than a crazed gang of villainous women going on a killing spree to satisfy their feelings of revenge. But of course, one could also enjoy the book just with that plot alone. If not, why do we find The Godfather so gripping? 

 

As I don't generally like horror (readers of my posts may have noticed), I've been trying to figure out what it is about this book that drew me in so much. All I can come up with is that McDowell was an author who really understood the art of writing: His characters are spot on, his scenes are dripping with atmosphere, we get this narration that just shows us everything that is going on without telling us how to feel about it:  

In the drugstore, which was neither larger nor brighter nor appreciably cleaner than Lena Shanks’s pawnshop, three fat, gaudy whores, whose vermilion lay half a dollar deep upon their cheeks, huddled at a small low table, on which stood three large glasses of absinthe. There was a short candle jammed in the mouth of a bottle and its guttering flame shining through the liquid in their glasses cast green shadows onto their pallid, pudgy hands.

Their gossip hushed when Maggie entered and they watched her closely and with evident mistrust. The shop was run by a young man whose hair had fallen out, whose skin was scarred with the smallpox, and whose eyes worked at cross purposes.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said slyly to Maggie, “what can I get for you?”

“Powdered opiate,” replied Maggie. “Three ounces.”

“Twelve dollars,” the druggist replied and, plucking out of a little wooden box his one- and two-ounce weights, dropped them onto one side of his scales. Then from a large jar filled with white powder he measured the opium, slipped it into a pink envelope, and slid it across the counter to Maggie.

“Can’t sleep?” he inquired in an oily voice. “Bad dreams? Pain in the tooth?” Mischievously he had listed the common lies of the addict.

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text 2017-09-09 16:14
Reading progress update: I've read 66%.
Gilded Needles (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Christopher Fowler,Michael McDowell,Mike Mignola

The revenge part of the story has begun. It is bloody. BLOODY! And, yet, I am kinda looking forward to it - which makes a change from my usual abhorrence of everything gory.

 

Maybe it is helped by the writing, maybe by the similarities to And Then There Were None in that every "victim" of the revenge plot has received an invite to their own funeral.

"Marian Phair had been shocked and indignant when her husband was returned to Gramercy Park in so disreputable a condition. She considered that victims of crime deserved as little sympathy as the perpetrators; there was something in one’s physiognomy, she contended, that invited victimization; something, she was certain, that all the Stallworths lacked, and that others— Cyrus Butterfield for instance— possessed in large measure.

“What happened, Duncan?” demanded Marian sternly, sitting at her husband’s bedside, just after the physician had left the house.

“I was attacked, Marian, by two women in the hallway of my offices. Just within the front door.”

“Why did they attack you? Did they want money?”

“No,” said Duncan, turning his face, “evidently not.”

“Duncan,” she said, “does this have anything to do with the cards that we received on Sunday? Are you keeping this from me? You and Father? Not telling me that we’re in danger?” Her voice became increasingly shrill."

 

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text 2017-09-09 11:59
Reading progress update: I've read 28%.
Gilded Needles (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Christopher Fowler,Michael McDowell,Mike Mignola

With Louisa helping either her mother or her sister as was required, and keeping books— she was a competent forger as well, and often found little ways of exploiting this talent— the Shanks women made just about fifty thousand dollars a year. This would have been a fortune to many New York families living with every trapping of respectability and good breeding. The greater part of these receipts was kept undisturbed in half a dozen banks along Sixth and Seventh avenues and had accumulated a great amount of interest through the years. Lena Shanks considered that avarice was no virtue among criminals, for greed led one into danger, and such hazards might compel one to take rooms in Centre Street— at the Tombs. “Be like Louisa,” cautioned Lena, “always we should be like Louisa, quiet . . . quiet. . . .”

I am so tempted to draw comparisons to The Godfather, except that McDowell's writing is far superior and his portrayal of life in the Black Triangle and his characters are so much more vivid, complex, compelling, and altogether more satisfying than Puzo's.

 

And despite the dark and seedy side of the story, I have not flinched once so far. Absolutely loving this and I hope the book will keep up that level of engagement to the end. :D

 

 

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text 2017-09-07 18:39
Halloween Bingo - Genre: Horror
Gilded Needles (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Christopher Fowler,Michael McDowell,Mike Mignola

Just as well Obsidian Black Plague / Blue called the Genre: Horror square today because I finished McDowell's Wicked Stepmother last night and have been thinking about his work all day. 

 

Char introduced me to Michael McDowell last year, and I really enjoyed what I have read by him so far. I have had a couple of more books sitting on my kindle, waiting for an occasion to be read. What better occasion than Halloween Bingo?!

 

So, for the Genre: Horror square I will turn to McDowell's Gilded Needles, because...really... who could resist this blurb?

"Welcome to the Black Triangle, New York's decadent district of opium dens, gambling casinos, drunken sailors, gaudy hookers, and back room abortions. The queen of this unsavory neighborhood is Black Lena Shanks, whose family leads a ring of female criminals-women skilled in the art of cruelty. 

Only a few blocks away, amidst the elegant mansions and lily-white reputations of Gramercy Park and Washington Square, lives Judge James Stallworth. On a crusade to crush Lena's evil empire, the judge has sentenced three of her family members to death. And now she wants revenge."

 

 

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