Happy Birthday, Iris Murdoch! She was pretty much up there with Doris Lessing for a while and was worthy of being played by Dame Judi Dench in the biopic about her tragic battle with Alzheimer’s. But then Lessing won the Nobel Prize and it seems Murdoch has gone out of fashion and few people read her now.
Fashion is just as fickle in books, or rather in writers, as it is in clothes. A movie or television adaptation can send a writer who has been ignored for years into the best seller lists, and a new biography, preferably with a few salacious details, can do the same.
Dickens keeps on keeping on and probably didn’t need a push from The Invisible Woman, but Trollope seems to have lost the impetus Barchester Towers gave him a few years ago. Swings and roundabouts – Anthony’s time may come again if a director with an eye for a great story decides to film The Eustace Diamonds.
Children’s books seem to ride the winds of fashion better, perhaps because they get a new set of readers every generation and parents and present-buyers hark back to what they loved when choosing.
A nice new cover helps, like the lovely Jane Ray illustration gracing Rumer Godden‘s The Fairy Doll, first published in 1956. Virago should have taught that lesson years ago when they single-handedly brought some unfairly ignored women writers back to readers’ attention.
Do you have a favourite who has dropped out of fashion, one you dream of bringing back?
Nadine Gordimer, the first South African author to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, has died aged 90.
And what 90 years they were. She was the author of 15 novels, as well as numerous short stories, and essay collections. Her writing garnered her many awards, including the Booker Prize for The Conservationist, and she was praised as a “guerrilla of the imagination” by the poet Seamus Heaney, and a “magnificent epic writer” by the Nobel Prize committee.
She was just as famous for her role as an anti-apartheid activist. She became involved in the ANC (African National Congress) when it was still a banned organisation and she edited Nelson Mandela’s famous I Am Prepared To Die speech, which he gave as a defendant during his 1964 trial. Indeed she was one of the first people Mandela asked to see when he was released from prison in 1990.
Gordimer was also a campaigner in the HIV/AIDS movement and strongly anti-censorship. But, to me, her true passion as a writer is encapsulated in this beautiful quote:
Nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.