Thursday 22 May 2008

Suicide Foiled by Nuclear War

Have you been missing the end-of-the-world posts? Well, here's one for you. It's a rather good book by an author I can't find out anything much more about. The book itself is Few Were Left, a cheery story about a homeless depressive who is about to commit suicide by throwing himself under a New York subway train when total nuclear war erupts.

The would-be suicide ends up as de facto leader of a group of other survivors, all of them protected from the devastation by having been underground when the nuclear missiles went off. They crawl through the tunnels, looking for ways to sustain themselves, and meet up with others. Fights break out, and an already bleak state of affairs deteriorates further.

The cover of my (I think) first-edition Methuen hardback from 1955 is suitably grim and grimy. (Click to get a bigger version.)

The back has a melancholy effect on me, too--who were these authors, all of whom, like Rein, seem to have vanished into the past with their books, unread and unloved?

The cover of Few Were Left was done by John Minton (1917-1957). He was a painter, a very successful illustrator, a theatrical designer and an art teacher. He was also an alcoholic, and (appropriately enough for this post) committed suicide via drug overdose. Frances Spalding produced a biography (John Minton: Dance Till the Stars Come Down), which features this self-portrait on the cover.

Minton's face is probably best-known through a portrait by his close friend, Lucian Freud.

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