Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Apocalyptic Golden Syrup

I have to be very careful about this one. If I start recommending Wolf Solent (1929) by John Cowper Powys, I run the risk of people pushing its burnt ashes through my letterbox. I've never known such divided opinion over reading matter. One girlfriend said she didn't want it to end, another threw her copy at me and told me never to waste her time with him again. But she still persevered to the end, and has subsequently told me she thinks it's a Bloke Book. The Penguin blurb on my Modern Classics copy (with its wonderfully appropriate John Nash painting on the cover) says that Wolf Solent has been 'described as one of the few great apocalyptic novels of our time' and the Spectator said it was 'A stupendous and rather glorious book...as beautiful and strange as an electric storm'.. What's it all about? Well, a young man returns to Dorset after ten years in London and works as a literary assistant not far from the school where his father had been the History Master. Its narrative is sometimes overwhelming, but underneath it all is a sense of unease that starts you thinking 'I've seen / heard / felt / experienced that somewhere'. And he mentions a Lyle's Golden Syrup can. But although it was written in the USA, it is a very, very English novel. An Unmitigated English novel in fact. Here's just a little taste:

He loved the muslin curtains over the parlour-windows, and the ferns and flower-pots on the window-sills. He loved the quaint names of these little toy houses- names like Rosecot, Woodbine, Bankside, Primrose Villa. He tried to fancy what it would be like to sit in the bow-window of any one of these, drinking tea and eating bread-and-honey, while the spring afternoon slowly darkened towards twilight.




13 comments:

Dru Marland said...

It was the cover that attracted me to this book- at the time, it was Graham Sutherland's "Entrance to a Lane", my absolute fave picture by Sutherland.

Didn't like the book, mind.

But nice to see that it's still attracting beautiful pictures for the cover.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Curiously, my copy (also a Penguin) has a different Paul Nash on the cover: Landscape of the Vernal Equinox, which is one of Nash's Wittenham Clumps paintings. I didn't get on with the book, but some passages in it are wonderful, and I will probably try it again.

I agree about the Sutherland picture –absolutely one of his best.

Peter Ashley said...

The painting on my cover is his brother John Nash's 'Winter Scene', one of my all time favourites.

Diplomat said...

Yes - very good. ooh - how many girlfriends have you got ?

jm said...

I'm pretty sure it was Henry Miller who turned me on to Powys. This would have been roughly 20 years ago, me an American living in America. I read a few Powyses, Wolf Solent among them, and loved them. I don't remember much about them in detail; a bit overlong, but they left an overwhelmingly positive impression. I fairly often think of re-reading him, esp. now that I live here in the UK. But I suppose Henry Miller = blokey too?

Fred Fibonacci said...

Deep, very deep.

Peter Ashley said...

Get it down you Fred, it'll do you good. And take your mind off your Scalextrix for about six weeks.

Jill said...

Never tried it but it's intriguing. Maybe Fred and I could compare notes between Scalextric Grands Prix? Do they do a 'Bluffers Guide to Powys?

Jon Dudley said...

Sorry, that should have read Jon...don't ask.

Philip Wilkinson said...

So fixated was I on the Nash painting (yes, sorry, John Nash) on the cover that I've only just noticed the Golden Syrup can lurking there in the photograph. Hope you're finding uses for all your Lyle's

Peter Ashley said...

Yes, the appearance of the tin was totally accidental. In fact it's been converted to a string dispenser, courtesy of Commentator Diplomat.

Vincent said...

Like JM I first heard of John Cowper Powys through Henry Miller, whom I discovered in 1961 at university, when someone lent me Tropic of Cancer.

In the last ten years I read most of Powys' novels and wrote reviews on many of them for La Lettre Powysienne, a bilingual literary journal. So my first thought was to defend Powys! But never mind. Vita brevis, ars lunga. He can fight his own battles from the grave, that's what literature does for an author.

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