Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tom Stacey, The Willa Cather "Virus," and More on Little Dorritt

Today's entry, as Caesar might say, est omnis divisa in partes tres.

FIRST, A SHORT REVIEW: Tom Stacey’s The Man Who Knew Everything, reissued by Capuchin Classics, fits neatly into the niche of the political novels of W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. Unconventional heroes face moral challenges, the settings are exotic, and there is a lot of action. These are quasi-thrillers: Stacey's multi-layered novel, set in the 1970s, tells the story of a semi-retired foreign correspondent who misses out on a coup in the Middle East and then faces the moral dilemma of what to report under a repressive regime.

The protagonist, Granville Jones, has built a life on the newspaper business and become discouraged. He settled down 20 years ago on an idyllic island in the Middle East to escape the demands of his marriage and the irritations of celebrity, and to start a new life with his lover, Romy, an archaeologist.

“By fifty, what could he add to his achievements but pallid repetitions of a greater past? He was already tired of fame, and something had gone from the centre of him. He craved privacy, and perhaps some deeply precious personal secret.”

Gran remains on the island, adhering to his routine after Romy's death. And thus he is absorbed in writing his book when the coup happens.

What should a good newspaperman do? The Reuters reporter has already sent out his story: pabulum straight from the new Emir. Ironically, a TV journalist, whose values are supposed at first to be antithetical to Gran's, also feels driven to inform the public of the real situation. Gran collects information but has to weigh the pros and cons of dissemination: Who will benefit? Is it too late? It’s a case of world politics - and journalistic ethics - and adventure.

Fascinating, plot-oriented, plain, good writing.

THE WILLA CATHER VIRUS: Jay Yost, president of the Willa Cather Foundation, writes in the spring/summer 2009 issue of The Willa Cather Newsletter & Review, that his partner asked him to write about "viral Cather."

"Just by letting people know how important Cather is to us and by sharing her oboks with them, we can start our own individual viral marketing campaigns that will help ensure that Cather is read by continuing generations."

(Yost says Wikipedia defines a "viral phenomenon as an object able to... convert other objects into copies of itself.")

LITTLE DORRITT INTRODUCTION: Stephen Wall's introduction to Little Dorritt, missing from my book, can be read at Google Books.


Vintage Reading said...

The Willa Cather revival starts here! Most British bookshops carry a copy of My Antonia but nothing else. When I ordered Lucy Gayheart I had to wait a long time because it was print on demand. The Professor's House is also a stunning novel. I'm surprised it is not more widely read.

Mad Housewife said...

Cather is more widely read in the U.S., but she is not known the way Edith Wharton is. But her reptuation has now moved beyond "regional," and books are even available in The Library of America editions. I must admit I love my paperbacks but it's handy to have everything in 3 volumes.

You are starting the revival in England! I love your blog.

Check out the Willa Cather Foundation web site. You can also see all the different editions of her books in their bookshop. (I'll go back and put the link to the web site in the blog.)