The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

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The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A glorious romp through 99 authors who have faded from fashion, supplemented by a dozen short essays to make you think. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: October 2017
Publisher: riverrun
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1786484895

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Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you're dead.

There's truth in that statement, you know, but there's a conundrum when it's applied to authors. Shakespeare is dead: Dickens is dead, but we haven't buried what they've written: that lives on until... when? Is it until fashion decrees that they should be no more? Or is it, as in the case of some children's authors that they are on life support through licensing deals and astute marketing? Christopher Fowler has unearthed (exhumed?) ninety nine authors who were once hugely popular, but whose works have disappeared, sometimes quite literally.

Then, of course, there's a further question: forgotten by whom? I was rather shocked that the first author up (they're in alphabetical order by surname) was Margery Allingham. Bookbag has seven reviews (as at July 2017) of her work and there's never been a shortage of takers when her books have been offered for review. Julia Jones, Allingham's biographer and the person who brought her last work to publication told me the story of a young person encouraging her father to read Allingham. Similarly, Gladys Mitchell might not have survived in quite the way that Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers have thrived but she's another author whose books are snatched up when they're offered for review. Does it matter though? No - it's still good that such authors are being brought back to our attention.

The piece on each author is short and insightful, with sufficient detail about their lives and back catalogue to allow you to investigate further or search for any books you might want to read. They're full of Christopher Fowler's impish humour and I found that I was regularly reading out some glorious one liners. Nobody complained. Because the pieces are relatively short - usually just two or three pages - there was a real temptation to read 'just this one and then I'll...' A book I'd thought would be read over a week, was finished in a couple of days.

It was when I reached Richard Condon that I acknowledged just how old I am. Glancing across at my bookcase I counted 13 paperbacks and a couple of hardbacks. There was a time when I lived from one Condon book to another, but I can't have read one in the last eleven years as we don't have a review of a single Condon book. I'd seen an author come to fashion, sell well - and fade away.

I smiled over Ronald Knox. Father Knox's writings have largely faded away and he's now largely remembered for his Decalogue, a set of rules to encourage fair play for readers of crime fiction. Most live on today, although some must (should?) have been a little tongue in cheek, particularly the fifth which decreed that No Chinaman must figure in the story.

Some authors might be forgotten, but what they have written lives on in some form. Noel Langley's The Land of Green Ginger became a perennial best seller, and it was this book which got him the job of adapting The Wizard of Oz for the screen, although two other scriptwriters were then hired to make changes to ensure that the film followed the original book more closely. Langley didn't like the changes, feeling that the end result was too sickly and sugar-coated. You've got to admire the man's judgement.

Perhaps the author I felt had been most unjustly forgotten was Barbara Pym. Fowler describes her novels as both popular and timeless. She's been someone I've turned to in much the way that I read Jane Austen - not for the plots, which are slim, but for the gentle observations on a way of life.

I've touched on but a few of the authors which Fowler covers so generously and there's still a wealth of treasure left to unearth. I've a forest of stickers in the book signalling authors I want to follow up or books I must trace.

Of the essays which break up the alphabetical progression of the book my favourite is The Forgotten Booker Winners. Have a look at the list of Booker Prize Winners and you might be surprised at how many of the early winners have been forgotten, but Fowler makes a pertinent point when he lists some of the people who have lost: David Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Beryl Bainbridge and Ali Smith whilst Hilary Mantel has won twice for a continuation of the same book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag. It's been a real treat.

There's some overlap, but if you have an interest in classic crime, you will love The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards.

Buy The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler at Amazon.com.


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