Monday, February 25, 2013

Five top novels of the literary life

D.J. Taylor was born in 1960, went to Norwich School and St John's College, Oxford, and is the author of two acclaimed biographies, Thackerary (1999), and Orwell: The Life, which won the Whitbread Biography Prize in 2003. He has written nine novels, the most recent being Derby Day (2011), At the Chime of a City Clock (2010), Ask Alice (2009) and Kept: A Victorian Mystery (2006).

Taylor is also well known as a critic and reviewer, and his other books include A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s (1989) and After the War: the Novel and England since 1945 (1993). His journalism appears in the Independent and the Independent on Sunday, the Guardian, The Tablet, the Spectator, the New Statesman and, anonymously, in Private Eye.

For the Wall Street Journal he named five top novels of the literary life, including:
New Grub Street
by George Gissing (1891)

A fastidious classical scholar with a fraught emotional life who found himself compelled to make a living out of writing fiction, Gissing loaded this intensely felt study of the London literary bourse of the 1880s with boxcars full of autobiographical freight. Edwin Reardon, his diffident and humbly born hero, has a freak success with a novel. On the strength of this he marries an ambitious girl called Amy (who mistakenly assumes that she has hitched herself to a genius) and instantly falls prey to writer's block. All this is observed by the couple's young friend Jasper Milvain, a no-nonsense journalist unburdened by artistic scruples who writes "for the market" and lectures Edwin on the necessity of producing what the public wants. Behind the central pairing of Reardon and Milvain lurks a long procession of minor characters in hapless thrall to the dictates of the commercial behemoth that they serve and a pointed little fable about the difficulties of pursuing your creative vision in a world where art has become commodified. No prizes for guessing who, once the Reardons' marriage collapses and Reardon dies, marries the widow.
Read about the other books on Taylor's list.

Also see D.J. Taylor's top 10 literary parodies.

--Marshal Zeringue