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WITH NIC BOTTOMLEY Stoner resurrections


On the back of the almost universally acclaimed reissue of Stoner by Jon Williams, NIC BOTTOMLEY offers up two more candidates worthy of a revival


N


obody can describe, recall and recommend a book like my colleague Ed. He has legions of fans that fl ock to visit him regularly to bear witness to


his infectious enthusiasm for books, to hear about his latest discoveries and to fi nd out what he thinks of new releases – all in the full and happy knowledge that doing so can be an expensive business. But Ed has been disturbed to uncover


a side-effect to his brilliant brand of opinionated bookselling. When he sang out alone against the almost universally critically acclaimed reissue of Stoner by John Williams (Vintage, £8.99), our sales of the book rocketed. This seems to suggest that after years of following his advice, Ed’s regular afi cionados were desperate for a change and to try something that he was deeply unimpressed by. However, in truth, I think it has more to do with the unstoppable juggernaut of Stoner itself. This quiet novel exploring the importance of any person’s life, however apparently unremarkable, became a publishing sensation 50 years after its fi rst release thanks to a Sunday Times review describing it as “The greatest novel you’ve never read”, many other more balanced but still glowing reviews – including a great one by Julian Barnes in The Guardian – and a glut of appearances in “book of the year” lists. In the context of that praise, and the word-of-mouth hype then generated, it’s understandable that for our customers, a plot-fi end like Ed fi nding it a tad sluggish was only going to add to the allure.


I HAVEN’T YET read Stoner and whilst its rediscovery and phenomenal success is great news for readers and booksellers alike, the only thing that irks me is that I feel it could equally have happened for so many other overlooked 20th-century novels. The same publisher for example rejacketed the novels of William Maxwell six months before Stoner and, but for luck and the grace of a colossal marketing campaign, I think he too could have had the posthumous renaissance he deserves.


Maxwell was the New Yorker’s fi ction


editor for 40 years from the mid-1930s but during the middle of the 20th century he also wrote six novels and seven short story collections. The one I’d pick out fi rst would be his last novel So Long, See you Tomorrow (Vintage, £8.99) which sees the narrator looking back half a century at two friendships destroyed by a single violent episode. One is the friendship between two neighbouring Illinois farmers and the other between the narrator himself and a close school friend. Like Stoner, for much of the novel it


is quiet; the narrator explores the two friendships in depth and, in the process, describes the small town of Lincoln, Illinois and the “plowed fi elds, or pasture, all the way to the horizon” that surround it. But it is also full of powerful, emotional drama that means, 15 years after reading it, certain key scenes are still etched in my memory.


BUT WHO WOULD Ed say was worthy of a Stoner-like revival? Luckily he’s not here to ask – because I know if he were we’d spend a very enjoyable hour talking about likely candidates and I’d never fi nish what I’m writing. I think right now he’d argue for The Foundling Boy by Michel Déon (Gallic, £9.99). This French novel was penned in the 1970s by an author who is much


celebrated in his homeland but almost completely ignored here. Fortunately though, the superb Gallic Press translated and published it last year, buoyed by words of admiration from the likes of William Boyd and Paul Theroux. The Foundling Boy became one of my colleague Lucinda’s favourite books of 2013. It’s an unashamedly escapist foray into the France of the inter-war years, which follows the fortunes of a baby found on the steps of a cottage belonging to a housekeeper and her husband, Antoine. As he grows up, Jean develops Antoine’s sense of wanderlust, which ultimately takes him beyond the realms of his own village and then his country’s borders. This golden age of tranquility is destined to be cut short, but not before we’ve had a chance to enjoy Déon’s funny story and his sumptuous descriptions of the colours, sounds and fragrances of rural France. The atmosphere and vibe is a world


apart from Stoner but it’s equally deserving of large-scale discovery by Britain’s fi ction- lovers. BL


Nic Bottomley is the general manager of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, 14/15 John Street, Bath; 01225 331155; www.mrbsemporium.com


www.mediaclash.co.uk Bath Life 45


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