You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Friday, June 22, 2012


This has been my breakfast book for the past several weeks. Since it is not something I will probably ever finish cover to cover, now seems as good a time as any to review it.
Nicholas Monserrat
Sutherland offers an idiosyncratic tour of the English novel through the lives of 294 novelists. (By default, any survey of the novel that includes only 294 authors will be idiosyncratic. The choice of whom to include is going to be highly personal.) I read the 25 entries from the 17th and 18th century straight through, but the urge to pick and choose became irresistible. I have taken to looking at the contents and mentally dividing the names into four categories;

1) Authors I have read.
2) Authors I have not read but might still someday read.
3) Authors I have not read and cannot imagine that I will ever read.
4) Authors I have never heard of.

Having worked around used and remaindered books for 30 years, I was surprised that Sutherland came up with so many authors that fit Category Four. I can still picture the pocket paperbacks or book club edition hardbacks of authors like Nicholas Monsarrat, Hervey Allen, Margery Allingham and Trevanian, but who the hell are Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Richard Crompton, or Mary Cholmondeley? It will not be hard to find out.

The more interesting category is number two. It has prompted me to be honest with myself. After all these years of thinking I am going to, am I likely to ever read Henry Green or Anthony Powell? What are the odds that I might pick up a John Buchan novel? The clock is ticking on Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. On the other hand, Sutherland has reminded me that I do want to read Patrick Hamilton, really. Same goes for Thackery and Trollope.
Mary Chalmondeley

I like that Sutherland takes into account the publishing history of many of the authors and the influence film versions have had on both their reputations and the writing of their novels. His humor often falls flat, but other reviewers overreact to what they see as his arrogance. I am also baffled by reviews that fault this book for not offering more insights or some kind of middlebrow guide to how to appreciate The Novel. This is breezy stuff and lighthearted entertainment. Sutherland can be as dishy about Samuel Richardson as he is about Jacqueline Susann. I look forward to what he has to say about V.C. Andrews and Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. -- whoever Sylvanus Cobb, Jr., might happen to be.

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