Gone, but not Forgotten

The following novels which I’ve read over the years have the distinction of receiving my highest rating of five stars.  They also have in common that they were written by novelists who have passed away during the last few years.  I deliberately selected writers whose names aren’t constantly in the literary reviews or blogs.  Those writers get enough publicity.  However the writers here wrote at least one great book and thus deserve to be remembered.  For each of these writers I highlight one book which is my favorite of their work.  Who knows?  One or two of these novelists may be the subject of a revival one of these years. 

 12010403Bernice Rubens (1928 – 2004)    “Birds of Passage” is an elegant humorous novel like several others by this prolific Welsh writer.  That the main male character is a well-mannered rapist on a cruise ship for aging vacationers does not detract from the humor.  Iva at GoodReads says, “I may be the only American who has read her!”  No, I am another American who has read this delightfully eccentric author.

 113748644_0_mDarcy O’Brien (1939 – 1998) “Margaret in Hollywood” is a story of early Hollywood wherein Margaret, the daughter of a vaudevillian, jumps from Broadway to Hollywood.  Margaret is supposedly based on O’Brien’s real mother.  Both of O’Brien’s parents were famous Hollywood actors.  I enjoy novels about the entertainment industry despite being talentless myself.

 386724Jon Hassler (1933 – 2008) “Grand Opening” is a novel about a family buying and running a small-town grocery store.   The New York Times said of Jon Hassler, “a writer good enough to restore your faith in fiction”.  Having read several of his novels, I agree.  He proves that life in a small town in the Midwest is not so prosaic that it can’t be turned into interesting fiction. 

 12175James Purdy (1914 – 2009) “Color of Darkness” is the first book of stories by this writer who was not afraid to deal with “the heartbreaking truth” in his books.  James Purdy is probably the only writer on my list who has his own society.  Here are the first sentences of his artistic statement.  “People have no respect, no empathy for other people; they have no sense of who other people are.  There’s a kind of withering away of the human sensibility, and that leads to the collapse of just about everything.”  Can a good book make you feel uncomfortable? Yes.

 IMG_5080Elizabeth Hardwick (1916 – 2007) “Sleepless Nights” has now been re-published as an NYRB Classic. This short lyrical plotless book is a one-of-a-kind part novel, part memoir.  You have to read it to appreciate it.  Hardwick is often described as “the long-suffering wife of poet Robert Lowell”. 

 925669_120531162044_IMG_9623Lewis Nkosi (1936 – 2010) “Mating Birds” is the story of a black man and a white woman who meet on a ‘Whites Only’ beach in South Africa during the time of apartheid.  The black man ultimately goes to prison charged with rape.  Lewis Nkosi’s fiction was banned in South Africa under the Suppression of Communism Act and lived in exile in the United States.  

 a-legacy-novel-sybille-bedford-paperback-cover-artSybille Bedford (1911 – 2006) “A Legacy” is a novel about Bedford’s German background.  She was born in Charlottenburg near Berlin, raised a Catholic with a half Jewish mother.  She and her family left Germany with the rise of Fascism.  Bruce Chatwin saw her as “one of the most dazzling practitioners of modern English prose.”  After reading all four of her novels, I agree with Chatwin.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Well, I know three of the six, Hardwick, Hassler, and Bedford… and you have good taste as usual!

    James Purdy sounds interesting, and I do have a few of his books, picked up at sales, so I should try to read one of them.

    And I did read one book by Jon Hassler, which I found at the library (don’t remember the title, though). It was charming, kind of Richard Russo-ish, and I gathered that it was one of a series about a university town. I very much liked the Minnesota ambience. The one I read was a little sentimental, but it didn’t mar the work.

    I like your reviews of contemporary fiction, because you don’t kowtow and say what you think. But I read more “old” fiction, so this list will help me make choices this spring.

    Thank you!



    • Hi Kat,
      Thanks. My favorite from the list is probably Sybille Bedford. She only wrote 4 novels, but all of them are wonderful, especially “A Legacy’ and ‘Jigsaw’.
      John Hassler was good friends with another famous Minnesota novelist, J. F. Powers. Hassler seemed to peak in the mid-Eighties with ‘The Love Hunter’ and ‘Grand Opening’.which got quite a lot of publicity.
      James Purdy was an offbeat writer, probably more offbeat than anyone writing today. Purdy was a 1960s guy, and we live in the more conventional 2000s.



  2. Upon reading this, I immediately ordered The Legacy and The Faces of Justice (the latter being a non-fiction comparison of European court systems from a lay perspective), both by Sybille Bedford. I bought The Faces of Justice for my Kindle, so have already been reading for a couple of days. I can tell I will love her fiction. She is a fabulous writer and, as a U.S. attorney, the glimpse into European court systems is fascinating to me.

    Now I am eager to get to The Legacy, which just arrived yesterday.




    • Hi Kerry,
      Wow, I’ve never tried any of Bedford’s non-fiction, but I’m sure she brings some of the same qualitiies that she brings to her fiction. There is a distinctive quality to her individual sentences which makes all of her work exceptional.



      • And I have Naguib Mahfouz sitting on my shelf, so that’s two posts in a row that demand my attention now. (I started and abandoned Palace of Desire once years ago. I had not gotten far, so all I know of the reason is that it was not the book.)



        • Kerry, I give up on quite a few novel-s but usually not ones that the Complete Review has praised highly. However I started reading ‘The Savage Detectives’ by Roberto Bolano which the Complete Review gave an A-. That book was so repetitive and uninteresting to me, that I gave up after 166 pages. Also I’ve given up on a couple of Hentry James’ late novels.



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