Tuesday 2 November 2021

The Neglected, Resurrected

Anyone who has read much of what I blather about here or on Twitter will know my passion for neglected, rediscovered books. As an attempt to justify this, I'd say that with nearly forgotten books from the past, as with translated literature, they need real champions to get them into print. They're not chasing the latest trend, so they don't fit easily into modern publishing's line-ups. Someone, or even multiple someones, has to really fight for them, and this sort of passion is only likely to be aroused by the really good stuff.

This leads me to the website of Brad Bigelow, Neglected Books, a massive archive of undeservedly forgotten literature, deftly researched and enthusiastically championed. I have genuinely lost count of the number of wonderful books I have chased down because of Bigelow's work, and have not regretted any of them (except, perhaps, for the financial pain).

Splendidly, Neglected Books is now working with Boiler House Press at the University of East Anglia to establish the imprint Recovered Books, focusing on republishing some of the best and most hard-to-find books the blog has championed. The first book in the series has just been published, and as both a standard-bearer for the project and a work in its own right, it's wonderful.

Gentleman Overboard was the first novel by Herbert Clyde Lewis, first published in 1937. The article about his life at Neglected Books outdoes any summary I can produce here, but he went on to write several more novels, and became a bankrupt, a Hollywood writer, and a victim of the HUAC anti-Red witchhunts, before dying, possibly by suicide, alone in a hotel room in 1950.

It's hard not to read Gentleman Overboard without keeping this sad end in mind, because the novel itself, with barely a wasted word, tells the story of the last hours of a man who accidentally falls off a passenger ship into the middle of the ocean. Despite the sadness of the story, though, it's a witty and surprising novel--Lewis's style here reminded me of the funny/quite-desperation captured in the Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge novels of Evan S. Connell, which is tremendously high praise. It's a pitiless but  strangely not a cruel book.

I have to mention the excellent cover by designer Louise Aspinall, which subtly updates the design of the original hardcover. This referencing to earlier editions is surprisingly rare on the world of republishing, but when done as well as it is here it is very effective. 

The 1937 Viking hardcover

I am very keen to see what Recovered Books does next. It's hard for me to be objective about this, as it's the sort of publishing project that seems tailor-made for my tastes and obsessions. If you're anything like me, and in this if nothing else you should be, then please get hold of a copy of this book.