it really is very bad

“‘Talk about a young man’s book!’ I said to myself. ‘What on earth made us take it on?’  It really is very bad; but something of its author’s nature struggles through the clumsiness, and we were in the process of building a list, desperate for new and promising young writers. I must say I congratulate Andre (and myself) for discerning that underpinning of seriousness and honesty… and think we deserve the reward of his turning out to the be the writer he is.”

~ Diana Athill on having re-read, after 45 years, Mordecai Richler’s 1954 debut novel, The Acrobats.  (From Stet: an Editor’s Life, Granta, 2011)

And this—also from Stet—and quite possibly the best comment ever on the subject of gossip:

“They [Brian Moore and his wife Jackie] were both great gossips… I’m talking about gossip in its highest and purest form: a passionate interest, lit by humour but above malice, in human behaviour. We [talked] about writing, but more often we would talk with glee, with awe, with amazement, with horror, with delight, about what people had done and why they had done it. And we munched up our own lives as greedily as we did everyone else’s.”

On advertising books in the 1950’s and 60’s, Athill says there was no such thing, that ‘promotion’ was limited to reviews [which she felt, along with word of mouth, was the better way and that ads were not as effective and mainly done to please the author]. As for being noticed generally… “A novelist had to stab his wife, or something of that sort, to get attention on pages other than those devoted to books.”

Read Stet this summer on an impossibly comfortable couch in the library at the *unpompously preserved  Cold Comfort Farm, PEI. [*a phrase Athill used to describe the great old Long Island homes, one of which belonged to Brian Moore].
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5 thoughts on “it really is very bad

  1. Apparently before he died, Richler and his lawyer were trying to buy up all the available copies of The Acrobats because he was embarrassed to still have it out there. Not sure if he succeeded.

    A novelist still has to stab a spouse to get noticed. Or maybe make ridiculous statements about writers’ genders and ethnicities re: the worth of their writing.

    “Stet” sounds like a great read, especially on an impossibly comfortable couch. By the way, some writer friends of mine stayed at CCC for a week as a writing retreat. We all had supper at Northport Pier on its last night before it closed for the season.

    1. Interesting about Richler’s attempts. Lord, it ‘must’ be bad! I’m almost certain I saw a copy of it recently. Can’t think where… a garage sale, second hand shop? Considered getting it but then got distracted [perhaps a dust mote drifted by].

      I’m jealous of anyone who stays at CCC. Divine, divine, divine. But you already know that.
      BTW, I believe you’ll find ‘Stet’ on the shelves behind that impossibly comfortable couch… (;

    1. I’ve just put ‘Instead of a Letter’ on hold. Have you read that one? It’s about her very early life.
      As for the Richler… according to one of the comments above, you’re lucky to have!

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