"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 23 July 2007

Mad About the Boy: James Hanley

The recent reprint by One World Classics (see review by Ken Worpole) of the short novel Boy (1931) by James Hanley - the most outstanding Liverpool writer of the first half of the twentieth century - gives a chance to read again an extraordinarily powerful and disturbing work of an adolescent coming to maturity. Originally published in 1931 it was re-issued in 1934 with an injudicious cover that resulted in a prosecution for obscene libel in a Lancashire court. The jacket here is from my copy of the first unexpurgated edition in 1990. In his introduction to that edition Anthony Burgess (like William Faulkner and EM Forster an admirer of Hanley) writes that: "The geniuses who are neglected are usually the geniuses who disturb, and we do not like to be disturbed." The book, whose shock - Burgess again - "will have nothing to do with the titillations of the pornographic" , is unsparing and shocks in the sense that Kafka meant in the quote I set out in yesterday's posting . It conveys the harshness of a thirteen year old poor Liverpool boy's life, running away to sea, experiencing brutality and abuse, and ending that life quite horribly. There is no comfort in it and Hanley's uncompromising spirit is everywhere apparent in a novel he claims to have written in ten days on a typewriter given to him by Nancy Cunard to whom the book is dedicated. But Hanley was a compassionate as well as a truthful artist and by giving expression to the boy, Arthur Fearon's, life, he did what his son, Liam, claimed for him: "He gave working men and their wives and children a voice - their voice." Periodic attempts are made to refloat Hanley's reputation and it might seem even more unlikely that he will find an audience in the current "3 for 2" bookselling culture but he is well worth the effort. We can safely assume that Hanley will be absent from next year's "European Capital of Culture" celebrations in Liverpool. The picture here is from a painting by his son, Liam Hanley.

1 comment:

Martha said...

Well written article.