Wednesday, 24 June 2009

More on Holiday (Stanley Middleton)

I wrote quite a bit about this yesterday, but I hadn't got very far with it. However, my initial impressions happily turned out to reflect the rest of the book. I think two things stood out about it - firstly, a plot where not very much happened on the surface, but by drawing you into the past lives of the characters turned out to be very gripping, and secondly, some very beautiful writing, such as the Teaser that I transcribed yesterday.
As I wrote yesterday, it's the story of Edwin Fisher, who is on holiday in a rundown seaside resort, where he used to go as a child. The resort is wonderfully described, as are his fellow holidaymakers. But the book is not really about his holiday, it is about his relationship with his wife, from whom he is temporarily estranged. On his first night, he runs into his father-in-law in a run down pub. His father-in-law is desperate to arrange a meeting between Edwin, and Meg, his wife, and as the book unfolds we witness failed attempts to get them together. At the same time, Edwin remembers how he got together with Meg in the first place, and the events that lead to it all going wrong.
I loved this book because I love books about relationships and people's lives, and I thought this was beautifully constructed and fantastically well-written. You should read this if you ever went on holiday somewhere like Bournemouth or Bognor; there is plenty of nostalgia in the book. I[m intrigued that this book was a "joint-winner" in 1974, I should read the other winner (The conservationist, by Gordimer) to see how it compares, I suppose. But I will definitely be reading more of Stanley Middleton.


  1. Someone pointed me towards your blog because I'm known to be a big Stanley Middleton enthusiast. Really excellent review, I thought - you've captured exactly the qualities I love about his writing. He seems to have become very unfashionable, but I think he's a tremendously under-rated novelist. All the books are excellent but my own favourite is probably 'Entry to Jerusalem'. Incidentally, picking up on the comment in your last post, 'Holiday' is now published by Five Leaves who are an independent Nottingham-based publisher. They're small (which probably explains the binding) but publish some excellent stuff including short crime novels by the likes of John Harvey and Lawrence Block. But most of Middleton's books (including his latest, 'Her Three Wise Men', which was published last year when Middleton was nearly 90) are published by Hutchinson.

  2. Thanks for popping in Michael. I have to say it was a slightly off the wall choice for me, but one which I loved so very much. I've managed to get Three Wise Men out of the library, and will be reading that in due course, and then ordering some of the other ones from different branches. I've been reading the synopses on Amazon and buyers' reviews and think that his work looks really interesting. You're right about him not being fashionable - I'd never even heard of him before this week.

  3. I, too, enjoyed your review of 'Holiday' very much.

    'Entry into Jerusalem' is the first of Mr Middleton's books that I read, and I've been hooked ever since.

    Sam Jordison of the Guardian wrote about his discovery of 'Holiday', pointing out:

    '[t]hat a book like Holiday wouldn't even see the light of day in the current publishing climate was notoriously demonstrated in the Times when they sent its first chapter to a number of publishers and literary agents together with an extract from VS Naipaul's In a Free State. True, Middleton fared slightly better than the Nobel prizewinner, but the fact that only one agent expressed an interest in seeing further chapters - and none called the newspaper's bluff - does speak (empty) volumes.

    'But perhaps I'm wrong to take that unoriginal Times stunt seriously. Maybe it isn't surprising that a book with such a curiously dated opening (set in a full church, of all places) failed to strike a chord with harassed publishing types. Maybe if Barbara Levy (the one agent perceptive enough to ask for more chapters) had read on, she might have been moved to try and persuade publishers to take the book. Though his churlish tone may be understandable, Middleton's own quoted response certainly puts the case too strongly: "People don't seem to know what a good novel is nowadays."'

    In a comment on Mr Joridson's blog posting, I quote Mr Middleton on his own books:

    'My favorite book varies. I think the books that deal with musical composers are the ones which excite or satisfy me the most. I sometimes think that, if I had any real choice in the matter, I'd have been a composer. I wasn't, alas, good enough. One thing that surprises me is how little interest critics show in, or appear to know about, music. On this ground I'd probably choose Harris's Requiem (my second published book, 1960, and the one which Nottingham Trent University is bringing out in an annotated edition[*]). The second I'd choose might well be Valley of Decision. Both have musical subjects and protagonists.'


  4. Hi Dave, thanks for visiting and posting that (how did you find it BTW?). Really interesting. I still haven't got around to reading Three Wise Men but I'm looking forward to it. And I like the sound of those musical books too. It seems like Stanley Middleton is one of the great forgotten; something almost imaginable when we have so much hype about the Booker each year.

  5. I have a Google alert set up for "Stanley Middleton" and one of your postings turned up in one of the alerts. As soon as I read both of your postings, I tipped off Michael Walters.

    I've read twelve or so of Mr Middleton's novels, and I've never been disappointed.

  6. Thanks - that's the second time this week I've heard about Google alerts which I didn't know about before.

    Hopefully it'll alert you when I get around to reading more of his stuff :)

  7. Stanley Middleton has died:

    "Ross Bradshaw remembers and reflects on Stanley Middleton, Nottingham’s Booker Prize winning author, who died on Saturday 25th July."

  8. Oh what a shame. Thanks for letting me know. I really must read the Wise men book very soon.


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