"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

William Gerhardie: the Pleasures of Accidental Discovery

When you are reaching the end of a long period of research on a book with masses of highly-targeted reading, it's one of life's great pleasures to discover when you were least expecting it, something absolutely new and unexpected and gratuitous. 

Rummaging outside a bookshop recently (one shortly to feature in my series of blogs about bookshops) I found one of those little green Penguin Modern Classics of the 1970s, William Gerhardie's Futility.  This book was first published in 1922 and the author was born in Russia of English parents which gives it the special flavour of a Russian novel.  Although he advertises at the beginning that: "The 'I' of this book is not me", the story clearly draws on his own experience.  Set around the time of the Russian Revolution it is both comic in its delineation of a vast extended family of hangers-on and spongers, dependent on Nikolai Vasilievich and the vaporous promise of his gold mines, and sad in its expression of the failure of the young narrator to win the beautiful and skittish Nina, middle of three sisters. Everyone waits for something to happen and nothing does and the humour is gentle and subtle, the mood bitter-sweet and the writing original and exact.  A very pleasant discovery.


John Self said...

Interesting to hear of this, as I picked up a copy of Gerhardie's The Polyglots last year, but of course have not got around to reading it (even glancing at it) yet. His novels have, I think, been reissued by the well-meaning but not very appealing Faber Finds series.

Wanda said...

I have the same Modern Penguins Classic edition! My aunt bought it on Nov. 25, 1978. I inherited her books and have just finished "Futility." I didn't think it had much of an impact on me, but today I felt the urge to keep reading it, and had to remind myself that I had turned the last page and there were no more to turn.