As a result of an email exchange during the week with the omnipresent Dave Lull, I thought I’d mention an author I have not yet read, but have been intending to (via purchase last year of three of his out-of-print books from "Amazon marketplace sellers" aka second-hand bookshops). The author’s name is Stanley Middleton, who was brought from my "as yet unread" shelves into focus to me this week by an article on the Guardian book blog by Sam Jordison (author of books with titles like "Crap Towns"), part of a series called "looking back at the Booker". I sent a link to the article to Dave, as I know that Stanley Middleton is a favourite of his.
Sam Jordison discusses one title of Middleton’s in particular, "Holiday", as this is the book that won the Booker in 1974. The subtitle of the Guardian article reads unpromisingly: "Stanley Middleton’s Holiday makes its few readers wince – and for all the right reasons." Sam Jordison starts out: "That a book like Holiday wouldn’t even see the light of day in the current publishing climate was notoriously demonstrated in the Times when they sent its first chapter to a number of publishers and literary agents together with an extract from VS Naipaul’s In a Free State. True, Middleton fared slightly better than the Nobel prizewinner, but the fact that only one agent expressed an interest in seeing further chapters – and none called the newspaper’s bluff – does speak (empty) volumes."
Transcending this "unoriginal stunt", Jordison goes on to write: "I would never have read Holiday if it weren’t for this trawl through past Booker winners, nor heard of its author (even though he’s written more than 40 well-regarded books). I’d also be prepared to wager that few readers of this article have encountered Holiday or Middleton, outside the context of the Booker. (It might even be instructive to run a straw-poll in the comments below – be honest!) More to the point, if it weren’t for the Booker, I’d have missed a treat."
I recommend reading the rest of Sam Jordison’s article for the very good review of this book he goes on to relate, a book which sounds as if it covers remarkably similar ground, but with a different perspective no doubt, to Ian McEwan’s recent On Chesil Beach. You might also be interested in the Guardian comment thread, containing contributions from Dave Lull himself, to which Sam Jordison has responded with appropriate grace.