Monday, February 25, 2013

Five notable novels of the literary life

D.J. Taylor was born in 1960, went to Norwich School and St John's College, Oxford, and is the author of two acclaimed biographies, Thackerary (1999), and Orwell: The Life, which won the Whitbread Biography Prize in 2003. He has written nine novels, the most recent being Derby Day (2011), At the Chime of a City Clock (2010), Ask Alice (2009) and Kept: A Victorian Mystery (2006).

Taylor is also well known as a critic and reviewer, and his other books include A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s (1989) and After the War: the Novel and England since 1945 (1993). His journalism appears in the Independent and the Independent on Sunday, the Guardian, The Tablet, the Spectator, the New Statesman and, anonymously, in Private Eye.

For the Wall Street Journal he named five top novels of the literary life, including:
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
by George Orwell (1936)

Such is the debt that this bitter account of a poet's attempts to keep his head above water in the London of the mid-1930s owes to "New Grub Street" that Orwell's friend the novelist Anthony Powell remarked that "the Gissing had to stop." Driven by a masochistic urge to escape the shackles of "the money God," the book's ground-down hero, Gordon Comstock, forsakes his "good" job in an advertising agency for drudging in a Hampstead bookshop and living in a seedy lodging house where the steady arrival of letters from editors rejecting his poems inspires him to almost fantastical depths of resentment. ("The sods! The bloody sods...! Why not say outright, 'We don't want your bloody poems. We only take poems from chaps we were at Cambridge with.' ") A crisis presents itself when Gordon's girlfriend, Rosemary, announces that she is expecting a baby; rather unexpectedly, given the novel's bleakly naturalistic air, Gordon does the decent thing, but the disparagement of a literary marketplace that gets by on pulling strings and backstairs intrigues burns unrepentantly on.
Read about another book on the list.

Also see D.J. Taylor's top 10 literary parodies.

--Marshal Zeringue