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

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A New Year Resolution

It sometimes seems as though 2009 has been the year of Lists. Endless lists, with The Guardian and The Observer particularly obsessed with this form of rather childish journalism. Instead of articles of intellectual discovery or exploration we get endless drilling into rows of the usual suspects, the same old names, the same old cultural 'celebrities', the safe choices. And we stop caring. It has been made worse by the fact that this year's lists can play the end-of-the-decade variation as the "noughties" vanish unlamented. Can it really be a decade since I was on the streets of a little market town in the Welsh Marches at midnight celebrating the end of the 20th Century? And what are centuries anyway? – 500 years ago this pew end in my picture (I seem to be right out of robins) was carved in Geneva cathedral and it's still there, looking well on it.

So, no lists from me for 2009 (oh, all right then, three novels slug it out for first prize: Colm Toibin's Brooklyn which everyone else seems to have chosen; Coetzee's Summertime which no one, amazingly, seems to have chosen; and Jean-Philippe Toussaint's electrifying La Vérité sur Marie which probably wins in the end, an astonishing novel).

So a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to everyone.

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.