Monday, 31 October 2011

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: UK First Edition / First Impression (Picador, 2006)

And so, after a Violent World of Parker cross-post interlude, we reach the grand finale of my interminable series of posts on post-apocalyptic books. And to round things off, here's a reasonably recent dystopian tale which has become something of a literary sensation:


Cormac McCarthy's The Road was first published in hardback in 2006, in the US by Alfred A. Knopf and in the UK by Picador. The edition you can see above is the Picador first edition and first impression (with the full number strike-off line on the copyright page), which had a much smaller print run than the US edition (and subsequently went through a number of printings), and is therefore much scarcer and generally more expensive than its American counterpart. In fine or near-fine condition, third or fourth impressions go for £10–£15 or so; second impressions for £20–£30; and first impressions vary wildly from £125–£250. My near-fine copy was a lucky find; I'd been on the lookout for a British first edition/first printing for a few years, and finally chanced upon this one in a Cecil Court bookshop for £30, which, considering Cecil Court booksellers tend to price their wares at the higher end of the scale, wasn't bad at all.


First editions of all of Cormac McCarthy's novels are in demand, and The Road – which was his last novel to date – especially so; it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007, begat a well-received, largely faithful film in 2009, was recently chosen as one of twenty-five books to be given away on the next World Book Night (the list also includes Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead), and has been announced as a set text for A-level students from January 2012. It's easy to see why on that last one: the novel is famed for its grammatical idiosyncrasies, notably McCarthy's fondness for sentence fragments, the absence of quote marks around dialogue, and the lack of apostrophes on certain contractions ("dont", "cant", etc). There's an interesting post (and attendant comments) on the grammar of The Road here, and I actually considered writing this post in a mock-Road manner ("Published in 2006. Valuable in first..."), but figured that might get a bit much.

Of course, these grammatical peculiarities shouldn't distract from – indeed are intrinsic to, the devolving language signifying the disintegration of society – the success of The Road as a powerful and memorable piece of fiction. Written in the third person in short passages (there are no chapters), it's a frequently terrifying account of a man and a boy's journey across an ash-covered, ruined America, with occasional flashbacks to the immediate aftermath of the unspecified apocalypse which destroyed the country. There's a glimmer of hope at the end of the novel, but by and large it's a relentlessly bleak affair, the only comfort being the boundless love the father has for the son.

On which appropriately gloomy note we leave the end-of-the-world behind for now – to be returned to at a later date, as I've some other post-apocalyptic fiction I want to write about – and move on instead to a suspense novelist who I blogged about in a short run of posts in May of this year: P. M. Hubbard.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Richard Stark's Parker Novels: US Fawcett Gold Medal and UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet Paperback Editions, 1967-9

(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)


Earlier in the week, at the end of this post on the review slip in Jeffrey Goodman's copy of the 1967 Gold Medal edition of Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake's Point Blank!, I mentioned that seeing that review slip helped me make a connection that answered a question I'd been pondering for a while, and that as a consequence I'd be writing what would likely be a highly tedious follow-up post in which I would explain all. This, dear reader, is that post. I make no apologies for its pseudo-academic didactic nature, so if you have little interest in matters to do with publishing, skip to the end of the post for some pretty pictures.

Still with me? Well you've only got yourself to blame. As I was saying: I was struck by a realization whilst writing that second Point Blank! post, to do with Coronet, the British paperback publisher of the Parker novels in the late-1960s. See, in common with many of the outfits who've published Richard Stark's Parker books over the years, Coronet issued the novels out of sequence. Indeed, to my knowledge, the Parkers have only ever been published in the correct order twice: on their initial publication – although even there I've heard rumours about a couple of the books switching places due to a delay – and more recently when The University of Chicago Press acquired the rights. Every other time, each publisher – Berkley, Avon, Allison & Busby – managed to mix up the running order somehow, whether it be bringing forward a novel due to there being a movie adaptation (both Avon and Allison & Busby with Slayground) or seemingly through sheer incompetence (Berkley).

Coronet were no different. The British publisher started off well enough by issuing The Hunter, the debut Parker novel (original US publication 1962), in 1967, again retitled Point Blank! and with a still of Lee Marvin from John Boorman's movie of that year on the cover. But then, for their next Parker offering in 1968, Coronet skipped the subsequent eight Parkers and published instead the ninth novel, The Rare Coin Score (orig. US publication 1967), following that the same year with the tenth one, The Green Eagle Score (also orig. 1967 in the States). Parker #11, The Black Ice Score (orig. US 1968) was next in 1969, before Coronet jumped back to the seventh Parker, The Seventh (orig. US 1966), now retitled as The Split, and rounded off 1969 with the twelfth Parker, The Sour Lemon Score (orig. US 1969).

Coronet's treatment of Point Blank! and The Split are easy enough to understand: both sport movie stills on the cover and were issued to tie in with their respective film adaptations. But I could never quite work out why Coronet opted to publish Parkers #9–12 instead of, say, The Man with the Getaway Face (Parker #2, orig. US 1963), The Outfit (Parker #3, orig. US 1963), and so forth. Until, that is, I finally fixed on a word in the expanded version of the publishing house's name – a word that also appears in Gold Medal's full name: Fawcett.

Coronet, you see, was an imprint of Hodder Fawcett Ltd in the UK, while Gold Medal was an imprint of Fawcett Publications in the States. They were, in effect, the same publisher, and once you – or rather, I – realise that, then Coronet's publishing strategy becomes easier to comprehend: Fawcett Gold Medal acquired the rights to the Parker series in the States from Pocket Books as of The Rare Coin Score, which is why Hodder Fawcett Coronet followed suit with that book in the UK (after publishing Point Blank!, that is). I guess I should have made the connection earlier with all the blogging I've done on the Coronet editions of the Parkers, but as I said before, I've never been the sharpest tool in the box.

Anyway, so this post isn't a complete waste of everyone's time, I thought it might be instructive to compare the different approaches on the covers of the Fawcett US and UK paperback editions. The American covers were all illustrated by the great Robert McGinnis, but I'm still none the wiser as to who illustrated the UK ones (those that were illustrated, that is). I speculated here that it might be John M. Burns, but, as ever, if anyone reading this can shed light on the true identity of the cover artist on the British editions, you know what to do. The order of publication differed slightly from US to UK, so I'm going with what I think is the US order.

US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1967 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1968
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1967 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1967
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1967 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1968
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1969
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1969
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1969 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1969

Next up, it's the final post-apocalyptic post...

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Children of Men by P. D. James: First Edition (Faber and Faber, 1992), Irene von Treskow Cover Art

It's the penultimate post in this lengthy series on post-apocalyptic novels; I had intended to carry on even longer with the series by looking at some other end-of-the-world books from my collection, but to be honest I'm starting to lose interest in the theme, and we're reaching the last of the "new" – as in, fairly recently bought – books now, plus writing this post on Pat Frank's Alas Babylon made me realise there were still a handful of books by suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard I hadn't blogged about – to be joined hopefully by something very special indeed from Hubbard. So with the end of the month fast approaching, time to draw a line under the end of the world and move on to pastures new, I reckon. But there's still a couple of post-apocalyptic books to come, the first of those being:


A 1992 first edition/first impression of P. D. James's The Children of Men, published by Faber and Faber in 1992. This, like yesterday's copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was bought during the second week of my summer hols, in this case in Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road in London. It's not exactly hard to find first editions of The Children of Men – there are umpteen copies on AbeBooks, for example – but it's a novel I've wanted to get hold of for a while now, so it was a serendipitous find.


That said, I haven't read it yet; I've only seen Alfonso Cuarón's adjectiveless 2006 film adaptation, which I really like but which I gather is quite different to the novel (although according to Wikipedia P. D. James was pleased with the movie). This 2006 New York Times piece compares and contrasts the two versions, but one notable difference is that the book takes the form of, by turns, first-person diary entries by Theo Faron and third-person passages.

While The Children of Men isn't exactly an obscure work in P. D. James's canon, the author is much better known for her crime novels, especially those featuring Detective-Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. At least one of those, 1989's Devices and Desires (Faber), also boasts a dustjacket illustration by Irene von Treskow, who illustrated the jacket of The Children of Men, and who I've blogged about briefly before: one of her paintings appears on the 1988 Faber first of Michael Dibdin's debut Aurelio Zen outing Ratking. A former art director of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi (and an Anglican priest), her work also graces the jackets of a couple of other non-Zen Dibdin books: The Dying of the Light (Faber, 1993) and Dirty Tricks (1991), the latter of which Olman reviewed in glowing fashion fairly recently.

Ephemera and paraphernalia have loomed large on Existential Ennui of late, and this copy of The Children of Men came with a clutch of cuttings included:


Contemporaneous reviews of the novel and interviews with James, clipped from local and national newspapers. In the internet age, a collection of clippings like this might strike one as being superfluous, but you'd be surprised how little newspapers have archived online, particularly contemporaneous book reviews dating from before the internet was widely available.

And with that, we've just one last post-apocalyptic novel to look at: an idiosyncratic, gloomy affair from 2006 which quickly became a celebrated, cultish classic, and consequently quite valuable in first. Before that though, a Violent World of Parker cross-post...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: a 1980 BCA Edition, and How to Recognise the 1979 Arthur Barker True First Edition*

This run of post-apocalyptic posts has been a relentlessly gloomy affair thus far, but here's a book that proves the end of the world needn't necessarily be a downer:


Douglas Adams's The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was first published in hardback in the UK by Arthur Barker (sometimes misspelt "Baker") in 1979. The copy above, however, isn't that edition: it's the BCA edition from the following year, which I bought for six quid in Kim's Bookshop in Chichester over the summer. Now, regular readers – yes, I'm looking at you two – might be aware of my general distaste for book club editions, but in this instance I'm perfectly happy with a BCA edition rather than a first edition. Reason being, the vast majority of the copies listed on AbeBooks as being the Arthur Barker first edition aren't the first edition either – or at least, not the true first. If we take a look at the back of the dustjacket on this BCA edition:


We can see it's a plain blue. That's also how the back cover appears on what's frequently described on AbeBooks, Amazon Marketplace and eBay as the first edition. But the back cover of the true first edition is different (as are the jacket flaps), which I can illustrate using a dustjacket I "found" online:


You'll notice there's a blurb on the back for Barker's 1979 hardback novelisation of Peter Hyams's 1978 movie Capricorn One, adapted by one Bernard L. Ross – better known as Ken Follett. That is how the jacket of the true first of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy should look; the copies with the blue back cover (and lacking a price on the front flap) are either book club editions or export editions, which, to my mind, shouldn't really be classed as first editions – and certainly shouldn't command the same prices as the much scarcer true first (around £400 to £600).


Anyway, that little lecture done with, enough of the boring bibliophiliacal balderdash. The method of mankind's demise this time out is, of course, the destruction of Earth in order to make way for a hyperspatial bypass, leaving a single human, Arthur Dent, to be spirited away in his pyjamas by his friend Ford Prefect. If you haven't read Adams's Hitch Hiker's novels – of which there are five in total, plus an additional, rather good 2009 continuation by Eoin Colfer – or seen the TV show, or heard the radio series, or seen the film... well, frankly, I'd be astonished. But I'd also recommend you do so immediately, as they rank among the funniest books (and TV shows, and radio series... maybe not films, though) ever written. The first two in particular – the second being 1980's The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – are utterly brilliant, stuffed with daft ideas, dreadful puns and memorable characters (Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin, the paranoid android). I read them (and saw the television series) years ago, and can still recall them vividly.


Let's press on to our penultimate post-apocalyptic post, which will be on a book by an author who, like H. R. F. Keating, is much better known as a crime novelist than as a writer of dystopian fiction...

* UPDATE 28/10/13: Except the true true first edition, according to the British Library Reference Team – commenting on Twitter regarding this Bleeding Cool post by Rich Johnston – is the 1979 Pan paperback edition. So there.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A Long Walk to Wimbledon by H. R. F. Keating: First Edition (Macmillan, 1978)

Returning to the dystopian stories following a Violent World of Parker interlude, here's a largely overlooked book by an author who's rather better known as a crime fiction writer:


H. R. F. Keating's A Long Walk to Wimbledon was first published in the UK by Macmillan in 1978, under a dustjacket sporting a front cover painting by Paul Wright – who, I think, is the noted maritime painter Paul Wright, whose pictures also appear on Patrick O'Brian's book covers (among others). Set in the near-future – or I suppose the past now, since the novel's over twenty years old – in a London devastated by riots, looting, fires and artillery battles (yep, sounds like the London I know... and left three-and-a-half years ago) and largely deserted save for marauding gangs and crazed individuals (now it sounds like Penge...), the book charts the progress of Mark, who is forced to leave the comparative safety of Highgate (plus ça change...) in north London in order to trek across the city on foot to Wimbledon in the south west to see his dying, estranged wife.

Keating, who died in March of this year, is much better known as a crime novelist than as a chronicler of post-apocalyptic London; his Inspector Ghote mysteries in particular earned him a loyal following. But A Long Walk to Wimbledon was identified by Julian Symons as perhaps Keating's best book, while fellow crime writer Mike Ripley – who left a comment on the second part of my interview with spy novelist Anthony Price in August – wrote about the novel in his Shots column shortly after Keating's death, calling it "a remarkable feat of imaginative writing, all the more impressive for its downbeat and un-sensational approach to the urban apocalypse which has simply crept up and destroyed London in a frighteningly ordinary way – no alien invasions, no bubonic plague, no zombies." Ripley also reports that at Keating's funeral P. D. James – who'll be featuring in this series of posts very soon – also highlighted A Long Walk to Wimbledon, again noting its "breathtaking imagination".

For a while A Long Walk to Wimbledon was uncommon in first, but it's in plentiful supply at the moment: AbeBooks currently has twenty copies of the Macmillan edition for sale, mostly around £15–£30 mark, although there is one on there right now for £6 (remarkably, I found one for even less than that). I've yet to read the novel, but by the sounds of it, it should be a good one.

Moving on, and whereas the apocalypse in A Long Walk to Wimbledon seems to have taken place in a gradual, creeping manner, the one in our next novel is very sudden and very final. Or is it...?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Point Blank! by Richard Stark: the 1967 Fawcett Gold Medal Paperback Edition (Slight Return)

(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

Interrupting the ongoing post-apocalyptic posts, just a (not so) brief follow-up to my examination of the 1967 Fawcett Gold Medal edition of Richard Stark's debut Parker crime novel, Point Blank! (retitled from The Hunter, originally 1962). If you've seen the comments on the version of that post on The Violent World of Parker, you'll know that TVWoP regular Jeffrey Goodman mentioned he had in his possession a piece of paraphernalia related to the Gold Medal edition, which he kindly agreed I could reproduce:


It's a very scarce, highly prized (by collectors; Jeffrey reports that a vintage paperback dealer offered him "quite a bit of money for that piece of paper"), original Gold Medal review slip, which Jeffrey found inserted in his copy of the book, and for me it sheds light on a number of issues surrounding both that edition and the wider publishing strategy of Gold Medal...

The bits of ephemera you sometimes find in secondhand books are always fascinating to me, and publicity info and press releases especially so – partly because I work in book publishing myself, but also because they afford a glimpse into an aspect of publishing which is largely invisible to the general public: marketing. How a book is marketed and sold in to the trade directly affects how it's perceived by booksellers and, in turn, readers. The Point Blank! review slip tells us a few things. For one, it confirms that this edition was, despite what the likes of AbeBooks would have you believe, published in 1967 (you'll recall from that previous post that there's no pub date inside the book, merely a 1962 copyright date). For another, it demonstrates that Gold Medal were very definitely marketing the novel as a tie-in to John Boorman's 1967 movie adaptation, despite not featuring any images from the film on the (Robert McGinnis-illustrated) cover.

Finally, it shows how publishers are perfectly happy to muddy the waters as regards the running order of a series if it suits their purposes. The review slip states: "In POINT BLANK! Parker, the cool and successful thief of THE RARE COIN SCORE, becomes a determined and deadly police force of one and shakes down an entire continent as the hunted turns hunter." That subtly suggests that Point Blank!/The Hunter is a sequel to The Rare Coin Score, whereas, in fact, it's the first novel in the series. As if to emphasize this, there's no mention of any of the other seven Parker novels that had been published by this point – and even inside Point Blank! itself, the only other Parker novels listed are The Rare Coin Score (Parker #9, 1967) and The Green Eagle Score (Parker #10, also 1967):


Of course, Gold Medal only picked up the rights to the series with The Rare Coin Score – previously the Parkers had been published by Pocket Books – so it's understandable that they only wanted to promote their editions. But it's no wonder that with the lack of information about the Parker series, and the retitling of a couple of the novels, the correct running order of the Parkers was, for many years, especially in the pre-internet era, a matter of some confusion.

That's something I'll be returning to in my next Violent World of Parker cross-post (which, I warn you now, will be horrifyingly nerdy – even moreso than this one – and consequently highly tedious and trying). Because when I saw this review slip, I suddenly made a connection that in turn answered a question I had about the British editions of the Parker novels around this period. On reflection that answer was blindingly obvious, but, well: I've never been the sharpest tool in the box... Look out for that later this week, but next here on Existential Ennui, it's back to the dystopian fiction...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Only Lovers Left Alive (Pan, 1966, Pat Owen Cover Art), the Unfilmed Rolling Stones / Nicholas Ray Movie, the Mystery of Author Dave Wallis, and The Long Blondes Live

Much as I did with this post on the first edition of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon and its subsequent post on the Pan paperback of that novel, next in this series on post-apocalyptic books I'm following up this post on the 1964 Anthony Blond first edition of Dave Wallis's Only Lovers Left Alive... with this:


The 1966 Pan Books paperback edition. Bit of an impulse purchase this one; I realised whilst researching the previous Dave Wallis post that the Pan paperback of Only Lovers Left Alive was just as scarce as the Pan edition of Alas, Babylon – possibly even scarcer. There are currently no copies of the Pan paperback of Only Lovers Left Alive for sale on AbeBooks (I bought the only one – sorry) and only two copies on Amazon Marketplace, neither of which look to be in great condition (and they'd set you back at least fifteen quid plus postage anyway).

I had a few reasons for buying this Pan edition. For one thing, I saw its cover online and was intrigued by its similarity to the cover of the Blond first edition. The artist on the paperback is Pat Owen, a Pan mainstay who created covers for various James Bond novels, among others. His Only Lovers Left Alive cover doesn't copy Bruce Fleming's reportage-style dustjacket photo on the Blond first edition, but it clearly draws inspiration from it:


Similar sort of pose for the feral youth in the foreground, similar submachine gun, and the clobber worn by the figures in the background is comparable, too – not to mention the typography, which, on the Pan cover, omits the heart in place of the "o" in "Lovers" in the original and is a little more angular, but is otherwise identical.

Mind you, it's not uncommon for paperback cover artists to draw inspiration from a hardback – or indeed vice versa:


That's the 1960 US Gold Medal paperback of Peter Rabe's My Lovely Executioner and the 1967 UK Herbert Jenkins hardback there. As for my other reasons for acquiring the Pan edition of Only Lovers Left Alive, well, I had a bit more I wanted to write about the novel and its author, but rather than throw it all into one unwieldy post, securing the Pan paperback afforded me the opportunity to pen a follow-up piece (er, the one wot you are reading right now, in case you were wondering). And one thing worth illuminating is that, in the mid-1960s, The Rolling Stones had plans to film the novel.

In 1964 The Beatles starred in their debut celluloid outing, A Hard Day's Night, and naturally the Stones wished to follow suit. According to Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones' manager, at first he and the band attempted to secure the rights to Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, but Burgess had already sold the rights to Stanley Kubrick. Evidently keen to star in something of a dystopian bent, Oldham and the Stones settled instead on "a second best novel" – Only Lovers Left Alive. There were persistent stories in the press in 1966 that the movie was underway, and that Nicholas Ray was attached to direct, but according to film historian David Kalat in his 2001 book The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse, although Ray apparently got as far as writing a script, in the end he "was unable to find financial backing, and the Rolling Stones stars lacked confidence in Ray, and the whole matter dissolved".

Had Jagger, Ray et al managed to film Only Lovers Left Alive, it's safe to say the novel would have become rather more than a mere post-apocalyptic footnote – it would probably still be in print for one thing – but instead Mick Jagger wound up starring in one of the most iconic films of the 1960s, co-directed by a differently spelled Nicolas – Performance (1968) – and the movie version of Only Lovers Left Alive was forever consigned to "best films never made" lists.


Certainly if the movie had been made, the profile of Only Lovers Left Alive's author, Dave Wallis, would have been elevated. Nobody seems to know much about Wallis, nor indeed what became of him. He had one further novel published after Only Lovers Left AliveBad Luck Girl, by Macmillan in 1971 – and another two earlier in his career: Tram-Stop by the Nile (Heinemann, 1958) and Paved with Gold (Heinemann, 1959). This thread enquiring after his whereabouts suggests that he was possibly a schoolteacher in north London, and also mentions that there's a bit of biographical detail in others of his books (there's nothing about him in either the Blond or the Pan editions of Only Lovers Left Alive). Unfortunately, not having access to those books, I can't shed any light there. If Wallis was, as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction maintains, born in 1917, it's doubtful he's still with us, but if anyone chances upon this post and has any further information – not a completely unknown occurrence here on Existential Ennui – please do leave a comment.

UPDATE 3/6/13: Steve Holland has since put together a thorough biog of the – as it turns out – late Dave Wallis over at Bear Alley.


One last note before we move on: when I saw the Anthony Blond first edition of Only Lovers Left Alive in the British Library's "Out of this World" exhibition over the summer – a visit which in turn inspired this current run of post-apocalyptic posts – I was struck by how familiar its title was. It was only later I realised that was because it's also the title of one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands – the late, lamented Long Blondes. So here, as a special treat, are The Long Blondes – featuring the divine Ms. Kate Jackson – performing "Only Lovers Left Alive":


Next up in this dystopian series, a 1978 novel by an author who sadly died earlier this year, and who is rather better known as a crime writer. Ahead of that, though: a Violent World of Parker cross-post...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Only Lovers Left Alive by Dave Wallis: Book Review, First Edition (Anthony Blond, 1964), Bruce Fleming Cover Photo

After a Violent World of Parker/Existential Ennui Westlake Score cross-post, it's back to the post-apocalyptic prose. And this next novel concerns a very different kind of apocalypse, one which is somewhat simpatico with the name of this very blog, and has gained an added significance in recent months...


Only Lovers Left Alive by Dave Wallis was first published in hardback by Anthony Blond in the UK in 1964, under a dustjacket (designed by T. O. Elmes) boasting a terrific wraparound picture by made-to-order reportage photographer Bruce Fleming:


As with the Pan paperback of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, I actually saw this particular edition of the novel in the British Library's science fiction-themed "Out of this World" exhibition over the summer, and was inspired to track down a copy. And there aren't too many copies of the Blond first edition around: AbeBooks has just three listed at the moment, and just seventeen copies in total of any edition, the majority being either the 1964 US E. P. Dutton hardback or the 1965 US Bantam paperback (the book's been out of print for years).

(UPDATE 31/1/12: Ah, the awesome power and influence of Existential Ennui; the total number of copies on AbeBooks is now down to seven, and there are no longer any copies of the Blond first available...)

The covers to both those edition are worth a quick look – the Dutton edition because of its similarity to the Blond first, and the Bantam paperback because... well, take a gander:


How's that for hyperbole on the Bantam cover? And there's one other edition that's especially interesting, too (at least to me)... but that'll have to wait for (hopefully) the next post. For now, let's deal with the novel itself. And Only Lovers Left Alive is certainly a unique take on an end-of-the-world scenario; the apocalyptic event in this instance is something of a slow-burner, a creeping existential ennui (hence my comment at the start of this post) which gradually infects the adult population of the planet.

This sense of the pointlessness of existence is made plain right from the get go: the novel begins with a schoolteacher (which, I believe, was Dave Wallis's other occupation) finishing his lesson and then listlessly throwing himself from his fifth floor classroom window. As hopelessness and despair spreads inexorably among the adults, suicide becomes endemic, eventually assisted by "Easiway" pills, until, by the close of Book One (titled "Everybody's Doing It"), one by one, the kids' parents and guardians have all topped themselves, leaving the young – personified by Ernie, Kathy and the Seely Street gang – to fend for themselves. Book Two ("I'm the King of the Castle") follows the Seely St. mob as they at first revel in their newfound freedom, and then, in Book Three ("Northern Spring"), do their best to adjust to a savage new world order.

Wallis's low key, unfussy prose helps to ground what is, at root, an extraordinary scenario. The mundane, humdrum manner of the adults' surrender to despondency is all the more affecting because of the matter-of-fact way Wallis describes it. One of the more memorable episodes in Book One concerns Kathy's mum, who, having previously told her daughter she wouldn't commit suicide ("Not likely"), leaves a note explaining why she has, after all, killed herself. It's the practical parts of the note that are the most heartbreaking – "I've been saving up tinned stuff... I'm going away to do it so you won't have the fuss, dear" – but her last line is as pithy a summary of the "why" as you'll find in the novel: "I wouldn't do it, really, if I wasn't just so sick and tired of it all".


With the recent riots in Britain there's been much talk in this country of "feral youth", and Only Lovers Left Alive certainly chimes with that. But Wallis goes further, detailing the establishment of a new feudal way of life for the kids and the beginnings of a new society. There are obvious parallels here with William Golding's 1954 classic Lord of the Flies, which was for many years – may well still be – a set text in British schools; it's even possible that Wallis himself taught it and consequently drew inspiration from it. But Only Lovers Left Alive is no pale imitation: it's a powerful novel in its own right, and one which deserves to be rescued from semi-obscurity.


I've got more I want to write about Only Lovers Left Alive, but seeing as this post is in danger of becoming unwieldy, and since, as I hinted earlier, I've got another edition of the novel winging its way to me, let's leave that for the next post-apocalyptic post, in which I'll be exploring some other aspects of the book and delving into the mystery of Dave Wallis. And if the edition I'm waiting for fails to arrive in time, well: we'll just have to make do with a Violent World of Parker post instead...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Westlake Score: Point Blank! (Formerly The Hunter) by Richard Stark; US Fawcett Gold Medal Paperback, 1967, Robert McGinnis Cover Art

(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

Interrupting the post-apocalyptic books posts briefly, here's a Westlake Score which has been the cause of a certain amount of consternation and confusion over the years, due to it being misidentified as an earlier edition of Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake's debut Parker outing:


What it actually is, in fact, is the 1967 Fawcett Gold Medal printing of The Hunter – which was originally published by Pocket Books in 1962 – retitled Point Blank! But it's frequently – and mistakenly – pinpointed as being printed simultaneously with The Hunter, i.e. in 1962; take a gander at its listing on AbeBooks if you don't believe me. (The edition's listing on The Violent World of Parker is, needless to say, correct.) I was always curious as to why this was the case, so when I spied a fairly cheap copy lurking on Amazon Marketplace UK, I snapped it up, determined to get to the bottom of this minor mystery. (This is what passes for entertainment chez Jones.)

I'll reveal all in a moment, and also explore some other intriguing aspects of this Gold Medal edition. But first, a bit of background: from 1962 to 1966, Richard Stark's Parker novels were published in the States by Pocket Books – that's the Parkers from The Hunter to The Handle. Thereafter, the rights were picked up by Gold Medal, who published the four Parkers from The Rare Coin Score (1967) to The Sour Lemon Score (1969), all with glorious Robert McGinnis covers. But Gold Medal also reissued a couple of earlier Parkers, again with McGinnis cover art: they published an edition of 1966's The Seventh in 1968, retitling it as The Split, presumably to tie in with the 1969 movie adaptation; and in 1967 they published The Hunter as Point Blank! (I've blogged about the McGinnis/Gold Medal editions before on Existential Ennui, chiefly in this meandering post on the search for the perfect Parker.)

The retitling of The Hunter as Point Blank! was again inspired by a movie adaptation, in this instance John Boorman's brilliant 1967 Lee Marvin-starring film (as with the 1967 UK Coronet printing of the novel). And if you look closely at Gold Medal's paperback of Point Blank!, there's evidence to suggest the retitling was done rather late in the day. On the back cover, the movie blurb at the bottom seems hastily stuck-on:


While inside, on the first page, there's what could almost be a hand-stamped additional movie blurb at the end of the book's blurb:


Finally, the text on the title page itself is kind of skewiff (it's a bit hard to tell from my rubbish photo, but take my word for it):


Given all this, I suspect Gold Medal only found out about Boorman's movie shortly before they printed the book, and had to quickly amend it accordingly. That might also explain the aspect of the book which has caused all the confusion over its publication date: the copyright info on page four. Take a look at that:


And you can see the only date there is the 1962 copyright line. There's no mention at all of this particular edition's pub date – hence the muddle on AbeBooks and other online booksellers.

There's one other thing I want to bring up before drawing a line under this post: my copy of Point Blank! came with a curious piece of paraphernalia inside it...


A cutting of a Rupert the Bear picture story. Of all the strange bits of ephemera I've found in secondhand books – letters, more letters, a postcard – that surely has to rank as the most incongruous...

And with that, let's return to the post-apocalyptic fiction, with a novel in which the kids are very far from all right...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank: UK Pan Paperback (1961), David Tayler Cover Art, feat. Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (Pan, 1960)

Continuing this series on post-apocalyptic fiction, we move from a British hardback first edition of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon... to the first British paperback edition of the same novel:


Published by Pan Books in 1961, this edition of Alas, Babylon typifies the style of cover art seen on paperbacks around this period, namely the more illustrative approach I alluded to in the previous post. For while the likes of Donald Green, John Rowland, Roy Sanford, Peter Probyn and Denis McLoughlin were deploying dramatic chiaroscuro, restricted palettes and abstract elements on British dustjackets of the period, Pan artists such as Sam Peffer, Rex Archer and, as seen on this edition of Alas, Babylon, David Tayler were opting for more literal interpretations of books' subject matter on paperback covers.

And you can't get much more literal than a mushroom cloud rising over a cityscape for Alas, Babylon – or, as the Pan front cover title has it, Alas Babylon – no comma. Curiously, the 1959 UK Constable hardcover edition also omits the comma on the front, although in both editions the comma does appear on the interior title pages. As for David Tayler, there is, as I've outlined before, virtually no information about him online: mostly what you get when you Google him are Existential Ennui hits. But I can tell you his Pan work included covers for C. S. Forester's Lieutenant Hornblower (Pan, 1957); Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice (Pan, 1961) and Lonely Road (Pan, 1962); two Pan covers for Ian Fleming's The Diamond Smugglers (1961 and, I think, 1964); and, of course, this:


The 1960 Pan edition of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. I've shown this one before, but as it's one of my most prized books, I'd hate to pass up an opportunity to show it off again.

I mentioned in the previous post that, while the Constable edition of Alas, Babylon is quite scarce, this Pan edition is even scarcer: at present AbeBooks has just three copies listed for sale worldwide. I was actually inspired to track down the Pan paperback – eventually finding one on eBay – having seen it on display at the British Library's recent "Out of This World" exhibition, one of the sections in which was about post-apocalyptic novels. And such was the case with the next end-of-the-world book I'll be blogging about, too: a 1964 novel which has gained an added significance in light of recent riotous events.

But before that, let's see if I can squeeze in a Westlake Score...