Published by Riverrun
Publication date – 5 October 2017
Source – review copy
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you’re dead.
So begins Christopher Fowler’s foray into the back catalogues and backstories of 99 authors who, once hugely popular, have all but disappeared from our shelves.
Whether male or female, domestic or international, flash-in-the-pan or prolific, mega-seller or prize-winner – no author, it seems, can ever be fully immune from the fate of being forgotten. And Fowler, as well as remembering their careers, lifts the lid on their lives, and why they often stopped writing or disappeared from the public eye.
These 99 journeys are punctuated by 12 short essays about faded once-favourites: including the now-vanished novels Walt Disney brought to the screen, the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie who did not stand the test of time, and the women who introduced us to psychological suspense many decades before it conquered the world.
This is a book about books and their authors. It is for book lovers, and is written by one who could not be a more enthusiastic, enlightening and entertaining guide.
This book is a bibliophile’s dream. It is a cornucopia of potential hidden gems ripe for re-discovery. There are authors you will have heard of, surprise inclusions that make sense when you read about the wealth of writing they are no longer associated with. There are those authors who you will never have heard of, with none of their titles ringing any bookish bells, overshadowed perhaps by far more famous contemporaries. Then there will be those that will surprise because whilst the author’s name may have slipped from the collective memory their stories are household names.
It is extremely easy to read. The short, two to three page chapters dedicated to each of the 99 authors, interspersed with essays, mean that the reader can soon find themselves 10 or 15 authors in. It is a book that you can dip in and out of, oftentimes having to be put down so that the reader can research the books of an author they have just read about.
There are so many authors in the novel whose work sounds so appealing that I’ve had to create a list of those I want to read. In fact, this book arrived the day after I bought a copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, who’s author, Winifred Watson, features in The Book of Forgotten Authors. I stopped reading the later to pick up the former, and fell in love with the tale of a down at heel governess and her new accidental friends (but that’s another story). Having had the feeling that I will discover some new favourites by reading some of these forgotten authors already validated I can’t wait to discover more.
Christopher Fowler writes in an engaging, informative and fun style, one which draws the reader completely into the lives of the writer whose life’s work is summed up in a few pages. His love and passion for literature shines through, making the book the more entertaining for it.
This look at forgotten authors is of course subjective. There were over 400 discovered by Christopher Fowler, condensed to just 99. There may have been many others in the remaining 301 that someone else would have held in higher regard. There are some of the authors selected whose work I know I will probably not enjoy but others whose novels I know will fit perfectly with my bookish bent. Don’t be disheartened if not all of the authors appeal, the other benefit to this book is that you will find an author to re-discover just as much as you’ll find an author that won’t be gracing your bookshelves.
This is a brilliant reference book but is also a look at the vagrancies of the novel, the fads and fashions of different periods in history. Hugely popular authors have now vanished from the reading public’s conscious. This book will open the doors to a wonderful array of authors whose novels are waiting patiently to be read again.
Luckily some publishers are realising the joy to be found in older titles, with Persephone and the British Library being at least two who are re-publishing long forgotten favourites.
An informative reference guide but also an ode to the lost authors of bygone eras, The Book of Forgotten Authors is an entertaining look at the world of writing. It, should, perhaps come with a warning – this book will cost you a pretty penny in new to you titles you find you simply must have.
About the author
100. A typical example of the late 20th century midlist author, Christopher Fowler was born in the less attractive part of Greenwich in 1953, the son of a scientist and a legal secretary. He went to a London Guild school, Colfe’s, where, avoiding rugby by hiding in the school library, he was able to begin plagiarising in earnest. He published his first novel, Roofworld, described as ‘unclassifiable’, while working as an advertising copywriter. He left to form The Creative Partnership, a company that changed the face of film marketing, and spent many years working in film, creating movie posters, tag lines, trailers and documentaries, using his friendship with Jude Law to get into nightclubs.
During this time Fowler achieved several pathetic schoolboy fantasies, releasing an appalling Christmas pop single, becoming a male model, posing as the villain in a Batman comic, creating a stage show, writing rubbish in Hollywood, running a night club, appearing in the Pan Books of Horror and standing in for James Bond.
Now the author of over forty novels and short story collections, including his award-winning memoir Paperboy and its sequel Film Freak, he writes the Bryant & May mystery novels, recording the adventures of two Golden Age detectives in modern-day London.
In 2015 he won the CWA Dagger In The Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as ‘unsaleable’.
Fowler is still alive and one day plans to realise his ambition to become a Forgotten Author himself.