A treasure map that is, in and of itself, a treasure trove, THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS is a resurrectionist text of literary loot too long buried.
Christopher Fowler has given us a literary atlas which empowers us to become a biblio Indiana Jones, a raider of the lost archive.
THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS is “99 stories and a dozen essays about the men and women who reached for the moon, and found that it wouldn’t always be there.”
Fowler’s investigations into forgotten authors found that writers can be ubiquitous, influential and massively successful only to disappear within their own lifetimes. So he has donned his fedora and cracked his whip and become a tome raider, unearthing writers who deservedly need resurrection and restoration into the imaginative landscape.
Romancing the tome, Fowler discovers authors who have inspired astute adaptors like Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney, been frightful frauds and fakes, or been too utterly human as to being monstrous and behaving shabbily even when their prose and plotting seems heaven sent. Authors who write like angels and behave like devils.
A Booker Award, you would think, would guarantee posterity, but, alas, prize winning is as ephemeral and inconstant as the wind when it comes to lasting fame.
Most of the authors are novelists, whose own lives would make a great novel. Who would of that that many shared a predilection of being church organists!
Among the profundity of prose princes and princesses, so pleased to see superb dramatists included, to whit, the Peters, Nichols and Barnes. Plays become ephemeral if they fail to enter repertoires. The shock of their experience fades and only the scripts remain.
Reading the scripts of both Nichols and Barnes reignites the shock.
Peter Barnes was one of the great proponents of anti naturalism, a dazzling response to the dreary kitchen sinkism of the fifties. At a time when Monty Python was reconfiguring comedy, Peter Barnes and Peter Nichols started incorporating surrealism, disjunction and Pirandello-esque antics into their works.
Arguably, Barnes masterpiece is The Ruling Class, famously filmed with Peter O’Toole as the mad earl and his identification with Christ. His screen writing credits include the Tony Curtis/George C. Scott starrer, Not With My Wife, You Don’t and Enchanted April, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Peter Nichols plays were robust and cinematic – several were filmed- but he didnt go into the theatrical repertoire as much as his less demanding peers and consequently disappeared. Happily, Privates on Parade and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg have had recent revivals, but a full rehabilitation into the theatrical pantheon hasn’t quite happened yet, which is a shame, as theatre needs his angry, daring humanity more than ever.
Forgotten, maybe, but not gone, all these authors are in print somewhere, either in new editions or old ones, in shops and sheds or goodness knows where.
THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS is a self help book for readers. Purchase it and proceed to have it guide you in perusing the shelves and stacks of second hand bookshops like Elizabeth’s in Newtown and Grand Days in Kings Cross.
THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS by Christopher Fowler is published by Riverrun