Thursday, August 21, 2008
More forgotten books
I was going to post some more forgotten books yesterday and today but as I looked through them or regurgitated them from my brain I discovered that some of them would just as well stay forgotten. Still, there are a few I thought about that deserve at least some mention, before I post my "forgotten book" tomorrow as part of Patti Abbott's ongoing Friday series on the subject. 1. Only By Mistake, by P.J. Kavanaugh is a thriller of the 39 Steps variety (the book The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, not the movie by Hitchcock, which is quite different). A city guy is on the run in the country, in this case on the run from an IRA man and hiding in a cottage on a Scottish island. Kavanaugh is a poet and critic, but doesn't condescend to the thriller genre in Only By Mistake. But it's a period piece in its portrayal of the IRA, in its politics, and in the language and plotting. So only to be recommended if you like the Buchan sort of thriller, and a '50s sort of plot and setting. 2. Madame Solario is an anonymous novel published in 1956 and reprinted several times since (the author, Gladys Huntington, has only recently been revealed). The novel was in its day notorious enough in Europe that a French book was published with the title "Who Wrote Madame Solario," with all sorts of speculation. The various paperback reprints, pitching it variously as a romance novel, a historical romance, a sex romp, or a Henry Jamesian novel of intrigue among the international visitors to an Italian mountain retreat. It's actually a comedy of manners with very ominous overtones, set before World War I in a genteel decadence that is about to collapse. There's a Russian with a gun, a notorious adventuress, a young, callow Englishman, and a wonderful and palatial hotel that apparently still exists in Northern Italy. It's a great read, if you're up for that sort of thing, with an unusual narrative structure (first and last sections through the eyes of that callow Englishman, middle from the p.o.v. of the omniscient narrator), a very indirect style, and a slow pace that builds the romantic comedy and the barely contained violence at the same time. Not a bodice-ripper romance novel and not a thriller, but a subtle, complex story of sex and the roles open to women in a repressive society. 3. I also thought of mentioning the novels of Timothy Watts, about whom I hadn't heard anything in a long time. I was a big fan of his first two books, published by SoHo Press, Cons and The Money Lovers (noir thrillers about capable con men and ex-cons caught up in plots they don't understand, kind of James M. Cainwith a contemporary, Elmore Leonard, edge to the hard-boiled formula. But I see that in addition to a third novel, Steal Away, from a few years ago, there's another one, Grand Theft, from just a couple of years ago--so I guess Watts's books don't really qualify as forgotten.