Wednesday, November 20, 2013

count your lessings

Much has been written following the death of Doris Lessing, who died on Sunday at the impressive age of 94. So I won't add much except to link to a couple of obituaries and tributes, as well as to my two blog posts on her books Memoirs Of A Survivor and The Fifth Child.

Quite a few of the articles make the point that she was a chronicler of interesting subjects whose main attribute was her intellectual restlessness and interest in tackling challenging subjects, rather than being an especially soaringly lyrical prose stylist, which I suppose is fair enough. As I said here, I think Briefing For A Descent Into Hell is probably my favourite of the small subset of her prodigious output that I've read (which comprises five novels, by my count, plus a sixth that's sitting on my shelves yet to be read), although I do have a bit of a soft spot for Shikasta, the first of the Canopus In Argos series. This is partly because it's an interesting (if somewhat baffling) read, but also because its lukewarm critical reputation illustrates the literary world's sniffy distaste for anything with even a whiff of science fiction about it. Lessing, as it happens, is on record as saying that these were some of her favourites of her own books. Here she is appearing on Desert Island Discs in 1993.

Far more interestingly, Lessing becomes, by my calculations anyway, the third author featured on this list to die subsequent to my reading one or more of their books, the other two being Michael Dibdin and Russell Hoban. This provides a third category to add to the more prosaic "alive" and "dead" to draw up this list of all 147 authors featured on the book list since its inception:

Died since first book review6

Now the sharp-eyed among you will be saying: hang on, I thought you said there were only three in the Personally Killed By My Book Reviews category, and so I thought, but in doing the basic skim of Wikipedia for research purposes I discovered that there were two more - Richard Matheson, who died in June, and Elmore Leonard, who died in August. All I can say of Matheson is that the only book of his I've read, I Am Legend, is excellent, as for Leonard I would say a case could be made for him being one of the great novelists of the second half of the 20th century; as with Lessing's science fiction stuff, though, he was hamstrung by writing what arbitrary literary critical convention deemed to be "genre" fiction - in Leonard's case crime thrillers, broadly speaking. If you must have just one, I'd say go for Killshot.

[POSTSCRIPT: actually the figure should be six, since it should also include Beryl Bainbridge, who died in 2010. I did mention that here, but I must have subsequently forgotten about it.]

No comments: