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

Monday, 14 December 2009

James Hanley: The Closed Harbour

The writer James Hanley (who always pretended he had been born in Dublin in 1901 but who was actually born in Liverpool in 1897) is one of those (all too numerous!) interesting authors who achieve a great deal of respect from their peers and a discerning readership but who never quite succeed in breaking through to a wider public. I wrote about him in my book on Liverpool and its writers So Spirited A Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool (2008). The latest of his novels to be reprinted is The Closed Harbour (1952) set in Marseilles not long after the war and centring on a sea captain, Eugène Marius, who is desperately seeking work from the city's shipping offices but whose career has been blighted by a seeming error of judgement (shades of Conrad's Lord Jim) involving the death of a relative at sea under his command. It is a characteristic Hanley study of a haunted individual battling against the odds and the grimness he relishes is augmented by an effective portrait of an unforgiving and vengeful mother who arrives in Marseilles to rub salt in the old salt's wounds. This is not, you will have gathered, a light and entertaining read but as an unflinchingly realistic portrait of a man struggling (and failing) to defeat his demons it has undeniable power. With news that the "Faber Finds" series is about to re-issue some of his earlier work might a Hanley revival, always promised but never delivered, be on the way?

Hats off to One World Classics for bringing out this handsome paperback (£7.99) with useful appendices on Hanley, including a biographical and critical summary by Chris Gostick and some fascinating photographs.

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